WHO to fix ‘errors’ in its Covid origin probe report

The World Health Organisation has said it aims to fix several “unintended errors” in its joint report with China on the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic, media reports said.

The WHO had, in March, concluded in a report that a laboratory leak was “extremely unlikely”. The report, which also carried details of early Covid patients in Wuhan, showed some errors, The Washington Post reported on Thursday.

The official China National Genomics Data Center (NGDC) database says patient S01 began to exhibit symptoms on December 16, 2019, a week later than the December 8 onset recorded in the WHO report.

The UN health body plans to change the virus sequence IDs associated with three of the 13 early patients listed in a chart in the report and will clarify that the first family cluster was not linked to the Huanan seafood market in Wuhan, The Post quoted a WHO spokesman as saying.

The mistakes in the report were due to “editing errors,” but they did not affect “the data analysis process, nor the conclusions”, WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said. The global health body also said that it will look into other possible discrepancies.

While it is not yet clear whether or how clarity on these points could throw light on the pandemic’s origins, the need to correct data months after publication, raises questions.

“We need more explanation about what the source of the error and the information was,” Georgetown University Professor of Global Health Law, Lawrence Gostin, who also provides technical assistance to the WHO, was quoted as saying.

“Who made the errors? Was it China, was it the team, was it WHO itself?” he asked. “There’s no clarity, and this does feed into public distrust of the integrity and rigour of the origins investigation.”

Meanwhile, at a news conference on Thursday, WHO Director General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, asked China to be more transparent on the issue of data sharing.

He added that getting access to raw data had been a challenge for the international team that traveled to China earlier this year to investigate the source of the pandemic. He also reportedly stated that it was premature on WHO’s part to rule out a potential link between the Covid pandemic and a laboratory leak.