Covid origin linked to raccoon dogs: WHO asks China to share more data

by IANS |

New Delhi, March 18 (IANS) The World Health Organisation (WHO) has urged China to share more data amid reports that the origin of Covid pandemic has been linked to racoon dogs from Wuhan wet market.

According to the WHO, researchers affiliated to China's Center for Disease Control and Prevention last week uploaded sequences related to samples taken at the Huanan seafood market in Wuhan, in 2020 to Gisaid, the global genomic repository.

While it was online, global scientists downloaded the data and analysed it and presented their findings to the WHO last weekend.

In a yet to be published study, they showed that Covid pandemic may have originated in raccoon dogs, which is consistent with hypotheses about the virus spilling into humans from a wild animal.

The findings were based on genetic data drawn from swabs taken from in and around the Huanan Market in January 2020.

However, soon it was removed.

While "these data do not provide a definitive answer to the question of how the pandemic began, but every piece of data is important in moving us closer to that answer," Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, said at a media briefing on Friday.

"These data could have -- and should have -- been shared three years ago.

"We continue to call on China to be transparent in sharing data, and to conduct the necessary investigations and share the results," the global health body chief said.

Though important, the findings were far from definitive and that all origin hypotheses, including an accidental lab leak, remained on the table, WHO officials stressed at the briefing.

Since the outbreak of coronavirus in early 2020, WHO and several countries have repeatedly criticised China for its reticence to release genetic material as well as for its overall public health response.

The WHO experts, including the SAGO panel, have maintained that China is not cooperating with the Covid origin probe.

China, on its part, has from the beginning protested that claims of a laboratory leak were just a 'conspiracy theory'. It has also claimed that the virus originated in the US.

"We continue to call on China to be transparent in sharing data, and to conduct the necessary investigations and share the results," the WHO chief said.

"Understanding how the pandemic began remains both a moral and scientific imperative," Ghebreyesus said, adding that it will help the world prepare "defences against future epidemics and pandemics".

"We have a duty to ourselves to end this pandemic as soon as possible. We have a duty to those we have lost to find out how it started. And we have a duty to those who will follow us to make the world safer," he said.

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