The World Health Organization's Scientific Advisory Group for the Origins of Novel Pathogens (SAGO) has urged China to release all information related to the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic. New sequences of the SARS-CoV-2 virus as well as additional genomic data based on samples taken from a live animal market in Wuhan, China in 2020 were briefly uploaded to the GISAID database by Chinese scientists earlier this year. This data suggested that raccoon dogs were present in the market and may have been infected by the virus, providing a new clue in the chain of transmission that eventually reached humans. Access to the information was subsequently restricted. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has called for China to be transparent in sharing data and to conduct the necessary investigations and share the results.
George Gao, professor at the Institute of Microbiology at the CDC, has stated that the data does not provide a definitive answer to the question of how the pandemic began, but is an important step in that direction. The Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan was shut down after the novel coronavirus emerged in the city in late 2019 and has been a focus of study of whether the virus had infected several other species before jumping to humans. The possibility that the virus emerged from a laboratory in Wuhan has also been considered, though China denies any such link.
The new analysis suggests that raccoon dog and other animals may have been present before the market was cleaned as part of the public health intervention. SAGO is continuing to investigate the origins of the pandemic that has killed nearly 7 million people worldwide.