China-US Relations

Missing virus data sparks row between Beijing and Washington

The WHO has been denied raw patient information from the early stages of China’s epidemic

A row has erupted about missing Covid-19 data following the World Health Organization’s mission to China to track down the origins of the deadly virus.

Washington has called for Beijing to be more transparent after expressing “deep concerns” about the eagerly awaited WHO report on the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak in Wuhan last year.

The multination team of scientists appears to have been denied raw patient data on 174 cases during the early stages of the epidemic. It first surfaced in the Chinese city at least 14 months ago.

On Friday, the United States stressed it was crucial to conduct an independent review of the “findings” and underlying data. Since then, President Joe Biden’s administration has ramped up the pressure

In a White House statement, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan insisted it was imperative that the WHO report was independent and free from “alteration by the Chinese government.”

The facts:

What the US said: “We have deep concerns about the way in which the early findings of the Covid-19 investigation were communicated and questions about the process used to reach them. It is imperative that this report be independent, with expert findings free from intervention or alteration by the Chinese government. To better understand this pandemic and prepare for the next one, China must make available its data from the earliest days of the outbreak,” Sullivan, the national security adviser, said.

China’s response: “The US is pointing fingers at other countries who have been faithfully supporting the WHO and at the WHO itself. With such a track record, how can it win the confidence of the whole world? It is hoped that the US will hold itself to the highest standards and contribute to the international [struggle against] Covid-19,” a Chinese Embassy spokesperson in the US said, without referring to the missing data in Wuhan.

How the news broke: Dominic Dwyer, an Australian infectious diseases expert and a member of the WHO team, revealed the data problem in an interview with the Reuters news agency. “[It is] standard practice [to ask for the data] for an outbreak investigation. That is why we’ve persisted to ask for that. Why that doesn’t happen, I couldn’t comment. Whether it’s political or time or it’s difficult … But whether there are any other reasons why the data isn’t available, I don’t know. One could only speculate,” he said.

China Factor comment: Whatever happened to “transparency” and “scientific cooperation?” For the answer, ask Beijing.

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