China has done “ little ” to investigate the origins of Covid in the first eight months of the outbreak, according to a leaked WHO report.
Scientists from the UN body warned in August last year that Beijing was dragging its feet on the probe, which they said had barely advanced since January.
They also warned that Beijing was not sharing data, although WHO chief Dr Tedros insisted that basic work to identify the origins of the virus was underway.
The report was leaked amid backlash from the WHO for its latest investigation from Wuhan, which supported theories being pushed by Beijing that the virus started outside of China.
WHO investigators, led by Peter Embarek, traveled to Wuhan between July 10 and August 3 last year as part of an ‘advanced team’ to set up the investigation much larger event that took place in January.
The leaked document, seen by The Guardian, is a two-page report prepared as they left the country to summarize the team’s findings.
He said: “ As a result of extensive discussions and a presentation from Chinese counterparts, it appears that little has been done in terms of epidemiological investigations around Wuhan since January 2020.
“ The data presented orally gave some more detail than what was presented at the emergency committee meetings in January 2020.
“No PowerPoint presentations were made and no documents were shared.”
But WHO chief Dr Tedros did not indicate that China was hiding information when he addressed the world at a press conference the same day, August 3.
Speaking of the China investigation, he only said, “ One of the areas that we continue to study is the origin of the virus that causes COVID-19.
“ The WHO forward team that visited China have now completed their mission of laying the groundwork for further joint efforts to identify the origins of the virus.
“As a result of these efforts, the WHO and Chinese experts drew up the terms of reference for the studies and the work program for an international team.”
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The international team – also led by Dr Embarek – arrived in Wuhan in January this year and returned home two weeks ago after offering near full approval of Beijing’s explanations of the virus’s origins.
Dr Embarek used a press conference at the end of the trip to push Beijing-backed theories that the virus could have been imported on frozen meat, while rejecting suggestions it leaked from a Chinese laboratory.
He also insisted there was no evidence the virus spread to Wuhan before December – a position he has since taken up after his assessment was scorned.
Dr Embarek now says discovered that there were at least 13 variants of Covid in Wuhan in December of last year, suggesting that the virus had been in the human population for some time to allow these different strains to thrive.
He also revealed that up to 1,000 people in Wuhan could have been infected in early December – an estimate based on Chinese data that showed 174 severe cases of the disease – also suggesting that it was spreading widely at the time.
While he did not say the virus was circulating until December, he called for further investigation of the theory.
Dr Tedros also referred to suggestions the virus had not leaked from a lab, saying all theories remain on the table.
WHO Wuhan final report is except recommending ‘thorough’ contact tracing of ‘patient zero’ – a man infected with Covid on December 8 who had no connection to a market seafood once touted as the source of the virus – leading scientists to criticize the “implausible” pace of Beijing’s inquiries.
Independent scientists say they do not understand why Chinese scientists did not do this investigative work months ago.
Professor Maureen Miller, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Columbia University, said: “It is implausible that this research was not done. This is not realistic, given that there are world class scientists there and the technology invested over the last 20 years.
Miller, who was shown a copy of the report for release by CNN, said the infection of the first patient on Dec. 8 without direct contact with the wet market or without travel shows there was already community transmission.
“ In the short and long term, it is detrimental to China to try to hide the fact that this virus started in China and has been exported around the world, ” she told the website.
Professor Yanzhong Huang, senior researcher for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, said it was surprising that China “has not invested in studying two important indices like this.”
He added that the country had recently mobilized the entire city of Beijing to find the source of a Covid-19 epidemic.
“They have top-notch scientists, who are much more skilled than most at recognizing the importance of this information,” he said.
Huang added that the WHO recommendations showed that they “ uncover interesting information about the origins of the virus. ”