Lancet Accused Of Sitting On Vital Study In January 2020 That Showed Human Transmission Of COVID-19: Report

by Swarajya Staff - Jul 25, 2021 06:19 PM +05:30 IST
Lancet Accused Of Sitting On Vital Study In January 2020 That Showed Human Transmission Of COVID-19: ReportWuhan Institute of Virology

Amidst rising concerns of pervasive Chinese influence in supposedly unbiased international bodies and global organisations, claims have emerged that the British medical journal Lancet suppressed a vital study relating to COVID-19 in the early days of the pandemic.

These claims have been featured in a new book by Sir Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust, who says that he was shocked by the behaviour of the journal, since speedy action is vital to deal with any emerging virus outbreak. The book has been written in collaboration with science journalist Anjana Ahuja.

A member of the Government's Sage committee, Farrar disclosed how he was contacted in alarm by Thijs Kuiken, a Dutch professor and government adviser, over a scientific research paper that he was sent by The Lancet to review on 16 January 2020.

The paper reported that a family from the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen who had travelled to Wuhan to stay with relatives over New Year showed that the virus was 'consistent with person-to-person transmission'.

The family had not been to Wuhan's infamous seafood market, then being falsely blamed as the source of the outbreak, but two of them had visited a hospital. Another member, who had not travelled to Wuhan, fell ill when the rest of the group returned home.

While Professor Kuiken instantly realised this information was crucial amid an unfolding world health crisis, his role as a confidential reviewer precluded him from sharing the details in public. The next day, he sent his review and contacted The Lancet "to say the information should be made public because it was the first scientific proof that the virus was spreading human to human. They either would not or could not do it."

However, nothing appeared within 24 hours.

When Time Is More Than Money

Prof Kuiken had also asked the research paper's authors to make the findings public, unaware that one – a renowned Hong Kong microbiologist called Yuen Kwok-yung – had already tried to raise the alarm in China.

Prof Yuen, who helped to identify the first SARS outbreak in 2003, had told Chinese officials of the researchers' alarming findings – which followed earlier warnings that the new virus was "clearly contagious".

"We admitted the patients to hospital on 10 January and confirmed the cases on 12 January using our rapid testing kits," Prof Yuen said in March 2020.

On 13 January, first COVID-19 case emerged abroad. The next day, a leaked memo from a Chinese health official admitted 'human-to-human transmission is possible', and warned of 'a major public health event'.

Reportedly, a key study by Southampton University found that if China had acted to lock down Wuhan even one week earlier, the number of cases would have been cut by two-thirds, significantly limiting the pandemic's spread.

Instead, the regime actively suppressed information, silenced doctors, covered up the outbreak's severity and shut down public discussion. Evidences have also emerged that the novel coronavirus leaked from a lab in Wuhan Institute of Virology.

After Kuiken didn't get a response from Lancet within a day, the professor emailed Sir Jeremy Farrar who agreed the findings should be shared urgently.

"If there was a novel contagious disease that could spread asymptomatically between people, the world needed to know immediately. Speed matters perhaps more than anything else in disease outbreaks," said Farrar. He then emailed and messaged Lancet's editor-in-chief Richard Horton but got no reply.

The following day he tipped off a contact at the World Health Organisation (WHO). Within 24 hours, China confirmed human transmission, saying that there were people in southern China who had caught COVID from family members. The state media also revealed that some medical personnel were infected. But, it was too little too late.

In truth, a single Wuhan hospital already had two floors filled with sick doctors.

The Lancet ultimately published the study a week later on 24 January. Lancet's editors also reportedly failed to share critical evidence – given to them by brave Chinese scientists trying to alert the world to the danger of the new disease – that showed the new coronavirus could be spread by people who were not displaying symptoms.

The journal said that all papers of major public health importance were shared as soon as possible while ensuring rigorous peer-review.

"Our authors are encouraged to share unpublished papers that have been submitted to The Lancet journals directly with relevant medical and public health bodies, and funders, as well as via pre-print servers," a spokeswoman was quoted as saying by Daily Mail.

On the other hand, Richard Ebright, a bio-security expert said that the Lancet was not the only journal that had sat on important pandemic research in hope of being first to publish. 'The practice has cost lives,' he said. 'It is unconscionable and unforgivable,' he said.

Fiona Godlee, editor of the British Medical Journal, said the reviewer was put in a difficult position and The Lancet should have ensured the Shenzhen evidence reached the public domain immediately.

"Although they did well to peer-review and publish the paper in just over a week, given the importance of this particular report it would have been even better if they had encouraged the authors to alert the WHO and put it on a pre-print site while it was being peer-reviewed," she said.

China's Influence

Last month, reports appeared that the Lancet had refused to publish an article critical of China's repression of Uighurs as it might cause problems for staff at its Beijing office.

The journal was also criticised for the controversial letter put together by Peter Daszak, who was revealed later to have funded high-risk experiments on coronaviruses in Wuhan Institute of Virology, attacking "conspiracy theories" that suggested that Covid-19 was not of natural origin.

Several countries and groups around the world have flagged attempts by China to "seize control" of strategically important organisations like the World Trade Organisation (WTO), World Health Organisation (WHO) and United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and fundamentally redefine the once universally agreed principles on which they are based".

Recently, a parliamentary panel in United Kingdom warned that if measures are not taken to stop the "corrosive influence" of China then the democratic countries are at a "very real risk" to lose the multilateral organisations to the authoritarian states.

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