New research has further confirmed the results of the first phase of China-World Health Organization (WHO) joint studies on Covid-19 origins tracing, Shen Hongbing, the director of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (China CDC), said at a press conference recenlty.
“Since the outbreak of Covid-19, we have actively communicated and cooperated with the WHO and invited them to send international experts twice to conduct joint studies on SARS-CoV-2 origins tracing in China," Shen has been quoted in a press release.
After the conclusion of the first phase of the joint studies, China continued to share its research results with the international scientific community, with research findings published in academic journals both at home and abroad.
The myth of data deletion
On 5 April, researchers at the China CDC published a new version of the Covid-19 analysis collected at Wuhan's Huanan Seafood Market in the science journal Nature.
Before its official publication, the data was shared on the Global Initiative in Sharing Avian Influenza Data (GISAID) database but was allegedly later deleted, which led to widespread speculation.
Shen clarified the facts, saying Chinese researchers and the GISAID database did not delete the data.
He mentioned that the initial draft analysis was submitted to Nature in February 2022. During the submission and revision process, the data was released by GISAID staff before the paper's publication, without the knowledge of the research team.
The GISAID platform explained the situation, attributing the release to staff malpractice. Data sharing was temporarily suspended, but the data remained on the platform, according to Shen. “Neither our team nor the platform deleted the data, and the data access links for journal review were always available,” he added.
Emphasis on data transparency
Shen said the first phase of the joint studies was successfully conducted in Wuhan, with a research report on China being fully recognised by both domestic and foreign experts, as well as the WHO.
"Throughout the first phase of the joint studies, China provided international experts with all materials related to the origins of the virus, and we did not hide any cases, samples, or testing and analysis results," he said.
Shen also said the recent questioning of the research results by certain WHO officials and experts goes against the scientific spirit and is an insult to the scientists who participated in the study.
He added that it politicizes the issue and is unacceptable to the scientific communities in China and worldwide.
Additional studies reinforce previous results
A study published in the journal Protein & Cell in May 2022 indicated no evidence of Covid-19 transmission before December 2019 in Wuhan.
The study obtained 88,517 plasma samples from 76,844 blood donors and evaluated pan-immunoglobulin (pan-Ig) against SARS-CoV-2 in 43,850 samples from 32,484 blood donors in Wuhan between 1 September and 31 December, 2019. The team concluded that no SARS-CoV-2-specific antibodies were present among the blood donors in Wuhan before 2020.
Another study, published in the journal National Science Review, examined the viral profiles of over 17,000 bats in China and did not find the sequence of the novel coronavirus or any related coronaviruses.
Zhou Lei, a research fellow at the China CDC who participated in the joint studies in Wuhan, emphasised that Covid-19 origins tracing cannot be achieved by a single country alone but requires collaborative efforts from the global scientific community.
She expressed hope that the WHO can organise global origins tracing work and maintain a science-based, rigorous, and just approach, allowing the process of origins tracing to yield convincing results.