Milestones :: Perspectives :: Research
23 July 2021 Vol 373, Issue 6553
WHO chief pressures China on pandemic origin
By Jon Cohen
Science23 Jul 2021 : 378 Restricted Access
Agency director calls for lab audits and more studies of how SARS-CoV-2 emerged.
In a sharp tightening of the diplomatic screws, the director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, is urging China to increase its transparency about the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic and allow greater access to its labs to help resolve the origin of SARS-CoV-2. Tedros also says WHO will create a new body to conduct the next phase of studies into the emergence of the virus, an unexpected move that concerns some scientists, including at least one member of an existing mission the agency organized to study COVID-19’s origin. Tedros called for more aggressively probing the two leading theories of how SARS-CoV-2 first infected humans and then emerged in Wuhan, China, in December 2019: that the virus made a natural “zoonotic” jump from an unknown animal species into humans or, more controversially, that it first infected a human during laboratory or field studies of coronaviruses found in animals. (An even more contentious theory suggests the virus was genetically engineered in a Wuhan lab.)
WHO chief calls for ‘audits’ of Wuhan labs after first mission controversy
World health body also wants second phase of inquiry to focus on the origins of Covid-19 in China
The Guardian, 16 Jul 2021
The World Health Organization has said that the second stage of an investigation into the origins of Covid-19 should include further studies in China and lab audits.
In a closed-door briefing to member states on Friday, WHO chief, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus proposed five priorities for the next phase of the investigation. They included “audits of relevant laboratories and research institutions operating in the area of the initial human cases identified in December 2019”, according to a copy of his opening statement provided by the WHO. He also suggested investigators should focus on “studies prioritising geographic areas with the earliest indication of circulation of Sars CoV-2”, the virus that causes Covid-19. And he called for more studies of animal markets in and around the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the disease was first detected.
The UN health agency has been under intensifying pressure for a new, more in-depth investigation of how the disease that has killed over 4 million people around the world first emerged. They published a report in late March, but drew no firm conclusions about how the virus first jumped to humans. Instead they ranked several hypotheses according to how likely they believed they were, finding that it was most likely the virus jumped from bats to humans via an intermediate animal. An alternative theory involving the virus leaking from a laboratory was deemed “extremely unlikely”.
The investigation faced criticism for lacking transparency and access, and for not evaluating the lab-leak theory more deeply.
According to information obtained by AFP, the WHO has now developed a protocol for evaluating laboratory safety and biological security to help ascertain whether the virus might have emerged due to a lab accident. The protocol, which the agency aims to use to investigate Covid-19’s origin as well as possible future outbreaks, provides measures for evaluating, among other things, the storage of virus samples and handling of waste.
Tedros, who has always maintained that all theories remained on the table, told journalists on Thursday that the push to rule out the possible link to a lab leak had been “premature”…
China urges tracing COVID-19 origin in multiple countries
BEIJING — China hopes that the World Health Organization (WHO) will treat the novel coronavirus origin-tracing work as a scientific issue, get rid of political interference, and actively and prudently promote tracing work continuously in multiple countries and regions around the globe, said a senior official of the National Health Commission (NHC) Thursday.
What was done in the first stage of origin tracing, especially by those that have reached a clear conclusion, should not be repeated, said Zeng Yixin, deputy head of the NHC. Zeng made the remarks at a press conference on the novel coronavirus origin-tracing work held by the State Council Information Office in Beijing.
What should be carried out is the origin tracing of early cases, molecular epidemiology, and intermediary hosts in multiple countries and regions based on extensive consultations among WHO member states, Zeng said…
If any country needs further study on laboratory-related sources, Chinese experts suggest going to nations with labs similar to the one in Wuhan, which haven’t been investigated. This way, they could learn more about possible leakage problems, said Liang Wannian, the team leader from the Chinese side of the group…
‘Lab leak’ theory unfounded
Claim about institute workers’ infection ‘created out of thin air’, researcher says
The Wuhan Institute of Virology has never engineered or leaked the novel coronavirus and no staff members have ever contracted the virus, a researcher from the institute said on Thursday.
Yuan Zhiming, who is also director of the National Biosafety Laboratory in Wuhan, Hubei province, said that the institute had not come in contact with, preserved or researched the virus before Dec 30, 2019…