The World Health Organization said Wednesday that its newly formed advisory group on dangerous pathogens may be “our last chance” to determine the origins of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and urged China to provide data on the first cases.
The first human cases of COVID-19 were reported in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019. China has repeatedly rejected theories that the virus leaked from one of its labs, saying no further visits are needed.
A WHO-led team spent four weeks in and around Wuhan earlier this year with Chinese scientists, saying in a joint report in March that the virus had likely been transmitted from bats to humans through another animal, but that more research was needed.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has said the investigation was hampered by a paucity of raw data related to the early days of the outbreak and has called for laboratory audits.
The WHO on Wednesday named the 26 proposed members of its Scientific Advisory Group on the Origins of New Pathogens (SAGO). Among them are Marion Koopmans, Thea Fischer, Hung Nguyen and Chinese animal health expert Yang Yungui, who participated in the joint research in Wuhan.
Dozens of studies are needed
Maria van Kerkhove, WHO Technical Lead on COVID-19, expressed hope that there will be more WHO-led international missions to China involving the country’s cooperation.
She told a news conference that “more than three dozen recommended studies” have yet to be conducted to determine how the virus crossed from the animal species to humans.
Reported Chinese antibody tests on Wuhan residents in 2019 will be “absolutely critical” in understanding the origins of the virus, van Kerkhove said.
The WHO, in an editorial in Science, said detailed investigations of the first known and suspected cases in China were still needed before December 2019, including analysis of 2019 blood samples stored in Wuhan and retrospective searches of data from hospitals and previous mortality. cases.
Laboratories in the area where the first reports of human infections emerged in Wuhan should be a focus, as ruling out an accident requires sufficient evidence, he said.
Mike Ryan, WHO’s leading emergency expert, said the new panel may be the last chance to establish the origin of SARS-CoV-2, “a virus that has stopped our entire world.”
The WHO sought to “take a step back, create an environment where we can look at science again,” he said. “This is our best chance, and it may be our last chance to understand the origins of this virus.”
Chen Xu, China’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva, told a separate press conference that the conclusions of the joint study were “quite clear,” adding that since international teams had already been sent to China twice, “it is time. to send teams to other countries. ” places.”
“I think that if we are going to continue scientific research, I think it should be a joint effort based on science, not by intelligence agencies,” Chen said. So if we are going to talk about something, we are doing all the business within the SAGO framework ”.