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The World Health Organization has announced the creation of a scientific advisory group to identify the origin of COVID-19 and better prepare for future outbreaks of other deadly pathogens.
The WHO Scientific Advisory Group on the Origins of New Pathogens, or SAGO, will include scientists from the United States, China and about two dozen other countries. He will be tasked with answering the question of how the new coronavirus first infected humans – a mystery that continues to elude experts more than 18 months after the start of the crisis. The group will also be responsible for establishing a framework to combat future pandemics.
Maria Van Kerkhove, head of the emerging diseases unit at WHO, called the creation of the new group “a real opportunity right now to get rid of all the noise, all the politics around it and to focus on what we know, what we don’t know. know.”
The team will be selected from over 700 applications from experts in fields such as epidemiology, animal health, ecology, clinical medicine, virology, genomics, molecular epidemiology, molecular biology, biology, food safety, biosecurity, biosecurity and public health, the WHO said. in a declaration.
“The emergence of new viruses that can trigger epidemics and pandemics is a natural fact, and although SARS-CoV-2 is the last virus of its kind, it will not be the last,” said the managing director. from WHO, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. noted. “Understanding where new pathogens come from is essential to prevent future epidemics with epidemic and pandemic potential, and requires a wide range of expertise. “
Beijing continues to resist investigations in China
The group’s creation comes as China has continued to resist efforts to investigate the possible origin of the virus there. After an initial WHO investigation, Beijing in July rejected a plan for the second phase of the investigation that could deepen various hypotheses on the origin of the virus, including that it had escaped from a Chinese government laboratory. in Wuhan city.
The so-called “laboratory leak theory” was initially rejected by the WHO, but has nonetheless gained ground in recent months, fueled in part by Beijing’s secrecy. Many scientists argue that a lab leak is much less likely than the alternative – that the new coronavirus has a natural origin.
Beijing did not immediately react to the announcement of the new task force.
WHO director still wants to examine Wuhan laboratories
Despite the WHO’s initial findings, Tedros called for audits of Wuhan laboratories, including the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which some scientists believe may be the source of the virus that caused the first infections in China.
Some of the proposed members of SAGO were part of the initial group of 10 people. WHO team who has studied possible origins in China, including Chinese scientist Yungui Yang of the Beijing Genomics Institute at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
a editorial co-written by Tedros which was published in Science SAGO said on Wednesday “would quickly assess the status of studies into the origin of SARS-CoV-2 and advise WHO on what is known, outstanding gaps and next steps.”
He said that “[all] hypotheses should continue to be investigated ”, including“ studies of wildlife sold in markets in Wuhan and surrounding areas, China (where cases of COVID-19 were first reported in December 2019); studies of SARS-like coronaviruses circulating in bats in China and Southeast Asia; studies on pre-pandemic biological sampling worldwide; and other animal sensitivity studies. “
“In addition, laboratory hypotheses should be carefully considered, with an emphasis on laboratories located where the first reports of human infections emerged in Wuhan,” he said, adding: “A laboratory accident cannot be ruled out until there is sufficient evidence to do so and these results are openly shared.”