Journal article Open Access

Wrong Side of the Yangtze River: Did a Map Mistake by the World Health Organization Contribute to Premature Conclusions About SARS2's Origin?

Chang, Whatsin Wu

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    <subfield code="a">Added: Table of first patient characteristics reported by multiple independent sources. 

Corrected: Error that said Peter Daszak didn't sign the Lancet letter he organized - in fact he did.

Known error: The accountant Chen from Wuchang district was not the first published COVID case:</subfield>
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    <subfield code="a">&lt;p&gt;Did a map mistake about the location of the first published COVID-19 patient contribute to pre-mature conclusions about where SARS2&amp;ndash;the virus that causes COVID-19&amp;ndash;came from? This report explores that question.&lt;/p&gt;

&lt;p&gt;The World Health Organization recently acknowledged that the report it convened to study the origin of SARS2 featured several &amp;ldquo;unintended errors&amp;rdquo; about early COVID-19 patients. The errors include where the first published SARS2 patient lived at the time of diagnosis, and this error is apparent in the report&amp;rsquo;s maps. Subsequent to the error in that report, other researchers appear to have repeated the error in their maps and corresponding analysis.&lt;/p&gt;

&lt;p&gt;This raises an intriguing question: did a map mistake in a report published by the World Health Organization cause the authors of that report and other researchers to draw premature conclusionsabout the origins of SARS-CoV-2?&lt;/p&gt;

&lt;p&gt;A specific example of where a premature conclusion appears to have been drawn by researchers who used the erroneous data that appeared in World Health Organization maps is this statement in &lt;em&gt;The Origins of SARS-CoV-2: A Critical Review&lt;/em&gt;, Holmes et al (2021):&lt;/p&gt;

&lt;p&gt;&lt;em&gt;&amp;ldquo;Examination of the locations of early cases shows that most cluster around the Huanan market, located north of the Yangtze river (Fig. 1a-e)... There is no epidemiological link to any other locality in Wuhan... &lt;/em&gt;&lt;/p&gt;

&lt;p&gt;The analysis in the current study proceeds by first providing context about the ongoing debate about the origin of SARS2.&amp;nbsp; That is followed by an analysis of maps from the World Health Organization&amp;rsquo;s report on the origin of SARS2, as well as publicly available information and investigative reporting by Washington Post reporters about the location and characteristics of the first published COVID-19 patient. This study then reviews a series of heatmaps of COVID-19 infections in Wuhan, where&amp;nbsp; each&amp;nbsp; map&amp;nbsp; uses&amp;nbsp; a&amp;nbsp; different&amp;nbsp; methodology&amp;nbsp; but&amp;nbsp; all&amp;nbsp; show&amp;nbsp; a&amp;nbsp; similar&amp;nbsp; pattern&amp;nbsp; for&amp;nbsp; the&amp;nbsp; progression of COVID-19 through Wuhan&amp;rsquo;s districts, consistently showing that Wuchang district--not the district where the Huanan seafood market is located--was hottest with COVID-19 infections earliest.&amp;nbsp; Finally, this report explores whether erroneous mapping of the first COVID-19 case contributed to premature conclusions about the origin of SARS2 and concludes by discussing research and public policy implications.&lt;/p&gt;</subfield>
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