The World Health Organization is fixing several "unintended errors" contained in a joint report with China on the origins of COVID-19, and will look into other potential discrepancies, according to the Washington Post, which apparently triggered the review with several questions.
The WHO did not explain why a map in the annexes of the WHO-China joint report appears to show the first case on one side of the Yangtze River, while the Wuhan government had announced last year that the first patient, who fell ill Dec. 8, 2019, lived on the other side of the river, in Wuchang district. -WaPo
According to WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic, the discrepancy over where the first-known patient lived relative to the Yangtze River is irrelevant to the lab-leak hypothesis because "the current first known patient is most probably not the first case."
Jasarevic added that the mistakes in the report were due to "editing errors" but had no impact on "the data analysis process, nor the conclusions."
As the Post notes, "It is not yet clear whether or how clarity on these points could help researchers understand what happened in Wuhan. But the need to correct data months after publication, in the second year of the pandemic, may renew questions about the slow and complicated search for the origins of the coronavirus."
"We need more explanation about what the source of the error and the information was," said Lawrence Gostin, a professor of global health law at Georgetown University who also provides technical assistance to the WHO.
"Who made the errors? Was it China, was it the team, was it WHO itself?" Gostin continued. "There’s no clarity, and this does feed into public distrust of the integrity and rigor of the origins investigation."
More on the error:
The Washington Post reported last week on inconsistencies in the profile of the earliest official patient, as outlined in the joint report. In response to queries from The Post, the WHO reviewed the cases and decided to update the document.
The agency confirmed the earliest official case, Patient S01, was a 41-year-old man, with virus genome sequences EPI_ISL_403930, MT019531, and GWHABKH00000001 in various databases. The report had listed a different sequence, belonging to a 61-year-old man, which Jasarevic called an editing error.
Jasarevic said the WHO is still looking into why the official China National Genomics Data Center (NGDC) database says Patient S01 began to exhibit symptoms on Dec. 16, 2019, a week later than the Dec. 8 onset recorded in the WHO report.
Of course, the correction also sets the stage for China to announce that the earliest known case could be someone different.
Seattle-based computational biologist Jesse Bloom of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center says the WHO should release more of the data underpinning the joint report's conclusions in order to allow third-party scientists to analyze the results.
"Certainly analysis of the earliest cases is a key aspect of the report," said Bloom, adding "Therefore, it would be helpful for as much as possible of the underlying data to be made publicly available."