This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
A World Health Organization (WHO) team sent to Wuhan to investigate the origins of the coronavirus pandemic has sent out mixed signals regarding the transparency of the probe, Chinese commentators said on Monday.
“It’s pretty clear that different things were being said when [the WHO team was] in China and after it had left China,” Wuhan-based campaigner Zhang Hai, who lost his father in the early days in the COVID-19 pandemic, told RFA.
“This means that the experts would have had a lot of worries about speaking out when they were still in China, because they would have been under enormous pressure.”
“I saw the reports that officials didn’t want to hand over detailed information on the early cases,” he said.
According to Dominic Dwyer, an Australian member of the WHO team, China refused to hand over raw data on early COVID-19 cases, making it harder to figure out how the outbreak began.
Raw patient data on 174 early cases from December 2019, known as “line listings,” was unavailable, with a summary provided instead, Dwyer told Reuters on Saturday.
“Why that doesn’t happen, I couldn’t comment,” Dwyer said. “Whether it’s political or time or it’s difficult … one would only speculate.”
Zhang said the omission had left doubts in his mind, too.
“It makes you think, they may have allowed the WHO team to go to Wuhan in search of the origins of the virus, but why didn’t they want to give them this data?”
International concerns are growing over the level of transparency afforded the 14-member WHO team during their visit, which spanned 27 days in January and February 2021.
White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said on Saturday that Washington had “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,” he said.
“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’s statement said.
Retired Guizhou University professor Yang Shaozheng agreed.
“They have a duty to provide this data,” Yang said. “Doing so will enable different experts from different countries to cooperate and continue this work.”
But Beijing said Sullivan’s comments had done “grave damage” to international cooperation on COVID-19, accusing the U.S. of “pointing fingers at other countries.”
Peter Daszak, a member of the WHO team with ties to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, tweeted that the team had worked “flat out under the most politically charged environment possible.”
He has also said in media interviews that the team was given access to crucial fresh evidence about the origin of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19, and not denied access to any key sites during the research trip.
Daszak was tweeting in response to an article quoting State Department spokesman Ned Price as saying that the White House shared concerns about transparency, and said “U.S. intel” shouldn’t be relied upon.
“I think the jury’s still out,” Price was quoted as saying when asked if ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) officials had been open and transparent with the WHO team.
A Hubei-based scholar surnamed Ding said the trip was likely more of a cosmetic exercise than a genuine attempt to discover the truth about the early days of the pandemic.
“This so-called investigation is just a way for the WHO to endorse the CCP,” Ding said. “We have seen that China provided U.S.$50 million in financial assistance to the WHO before [the trip], and pledged another U.S.$20 million a year for the next two years.”
“They were just going along with the whole charade.”
The WHO experts have agreed that the virus likely jumped from bats to an unknown animal species, before being transmitted to humans.
They have also said that it was “extremely unlikely” that the virus came from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which has been at the center of international speculation around the origins of the pandemic.
For its part, China has sought to direct the narrative away from Wuhan as the originating point of the virus, calling for a probe into imported frozen food and a possible U.S. origin for the pandemic.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has said that all hypotheses remain open about the origins of COVID-19, while Washington has requested that its experts be allowed to review data from the mission.