Lancet withdraws Chinese nurses' letter after they say it was not first-hand

BEIJING (Reuters) - British medical journal the Lancet on Thursday retracted a letter from two Chinese nurses purporting to be on the front line of the coronavirus fight, saying the authors had requested that it be withdrawn because it was not a first-hand account.

In the letter, published in the journal on Feb. 24, the nurses, who work at hospitals in the southern province of Guangdong, said they had gone to Wuhan, the city at the center of the epidemic, to work in isolation wards and described the challenges of working long hours in extreme conditions.

“On Feb. 26, 2020, we were informed by the authors of this correspondence that the account described therein was not a first-hand account, as the authors had claimed, and that they wished to withdraw the piece. We have therefore taken the decision to retract this correspondence,” the Lancet said.

It gave no further explanation.

The letter generated attention given China’s strict control over the flow of information about the virus, and its clampdown on criticism of authorities’ handling of the crisis, including censorship of social media posts.

On Wednesday, a medical team sent by Guangdong province to help in Wuhan posted an online statement to a newspaper saying the two were not part of the team and their description of conditions was not accurate.

The two nurses could not immediately be reached for comment.

The Third Affiliated Hospital of Guangzhou Medical University, where one of the letter’s authors, Zeng Yingchun, works, said Zeng did not go to Wuhan and declined further comment when contacted by Reuters. Zeng did not reply to an email from Reuters.

The other author, Zhen Yan, works at Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hospital, according to the Lancet. A person answering the phone there on Thursday said they were not aware of the matter.

On a second call, a person said there was no such employee by that name.

Sixth Tone, a news website backed by the Shanghai city government, reported that a person in the acupuncture department at Sun Yat Sen hospital said that Zhen had not shown up for work on Thursday.

More than 3,000 medical staff in China have been infected by the virus, an official at China’s National Health Commission said on Monday. At least nine have died.

Reporting by Dominique Patton, Tony Munroe, Yew Lun Tian, Pei Li and Shanghai newsroom; Editing by Robert Birsel