why the WHO is relaunching an investigation into the origins of the virus

why the WHO is relaunching an investigation into the origins of the virus
why the WHO is relaunching an investigation into the origins of the virus

“Understanding where new pathogens come from is essential to prevent future epidemics with epidemic and pandemic potential, and requires a wide range of expertise,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director of the WHO. The organization introduced the members of the WHO Scientific Advisory Group on the Origins of Novel Pathogens (SAGO) on Wednesday.

This group will be responsible for developing “a global framework to define and orient studies on the origins of emerging and re-emerging pathogens with epidemic and pandemic potential”, but also to study again the origins of Sars-CoV-2 . SAGO should therefore provide an “independent assessment” of the available evidence on the origins of Sars-CoV-2. It should also “provide advice and additional support to WHO (…) which may include participation in future WHO international missions to study the origins of Sars-CoV-2 or other pathogens. “.

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“No more time to waste”

“This is truly an unprecedented opportunity. Time is running out and there is no more time to waste,” Maria Van Kerkhove, the coronavirus manager at WHO, commented on Twitter.

More than 700 people applied to join the expert group. 26 were selected. They have skills in various fields: epidemiology, animal health, ecology, virology, food safety, clinical medicine, biosecurity, molecular biology … This allows them to “refocus on science”, considers Maria Van Kerkhove. In mid-August, China had rejected the WHO’s call for a new investigation on its soil, urging a “scientific” and not “political” approach.

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“We ask you to give us the space to work, to help us advance science and move forward in discovering the origins of this deadly virus,” said Maria Van Kerkhove. “It’s time to get back to work. Thank you. to support this effort “. She also compared the situation to “the new starting point of an incredibly long marathon”. The director of the health emergency program at the WHO, Michel Ryan said that it was “perhaps our last chance to understand the origins of this virus in a collective and responsible way”.

A disappointing first mission

A first mission of WHO experts was sent to China last January. Its investigative report, published at the end of March, listed four probable scenarios about the origins of the virus. The most probable was that of transmission to humans through an infected animal. The accidental leak from the laboratory was deemed “extremely unlikely”.

Since March, calls for a new investigation have multiplied. In August, members of the first team had warned that “time was running out” to gather the evidence on the beginnings of the pandemic. “Antibodies decline over time: collecting samples and testing people who may have been exposed before December 2019 will yield less and less results,” they warned. On Wednesday, the WHO director said in the journal Science that a “laboratory accident cannot be ruled out until there is sufficient evidence to do so and these results are not openly disclosed” .

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