The Covid team is a new research group that will study the impact of blockchain on health care.
The World Health Organization has formed a new panel of scientists whose mission will be to resurrect a dormant investigation into the origins of the coronavirus that triggered a worldwide epidemic.
The 26-member team, which includes experts from the United States, China, India, Nigeria, and Cambodia, is bigger than a 10-member international team of scientists dispatched to Wuhan, China, earlier this year to investigate the first known Covid-19 outbreak in December 2019. In addition to Covid-19, the team will have a wider mission to conduct research into future epidemics.
According to global health experts, it may face some of the same challenges that hindered the first team’s work earlier this year, such as restricted access to data on suspected early Covid-19 cases and other relevant proof. Officials from the World Health Organization have said that time is running out to analyze blood samples and other crucial evidence in China to determine when, how, and where the epidemic began.
Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s health emergency program, told reporters on Wednesday, “This is our greatest opportunity and it may be our final chance to understand the origins of this virus,” at least in a collaborative and cooperative manner. “We are at a critical juncture.”
For months, China has claimed that its contribution to the WHO’s work is complete, and has urged the United Nations organization to send a delegation to other nations, particularly the United States, to examine if a lab accident there may have triggered the epidemic. Beijing has increased controls on what kind of study Chinese experts may do on the subject at home, thwarting WHO attempts to promote research into how the virus originally arose in Wuhan.
Experts from across the world are demanding further research into the origins of Covid-19, including a deeper look at some of the first cases in central China.
Chinatopix/Associated Press photo
“The findings and recommendations of the China-WHO joint research report have been acknowledged by the world community and the scientific community, and must be respected and implemented,” said Liu Pengyu, a spokeswoman for China’s US Embassy. Future global origins research should and can only be done on this foundation.”
The new group is an effort to go ahead with some of that research. It comprises virologists, epidemiologists, and animal health specialists, as well as at least one laboratory biosafety expert.
Last year, biosafety expert Kathrin Summermatter told a Swiss newspaper that she didn’t believe a lab disaster was possible since lab-related epidemics only affect a limited number of people who are well prepared to react. On Wednesday, she did not reply to a request for comment. Her remark in February 2020 was similar to that of other scientists who claimed they were reacting to public speculation at the time that the virus had been designed as a bioweapon in a lab.
The new team’s membership will be confirmed following a two-week public input process, according to the WHO. Hundreds of scientists sought to be a part of the project.
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Six members of the foreign and Chinese teams that visited Wuhan for a month earlier this year and prepared a report on the virus’s origins are on the squad. The virus most likely started in a bat and was transmitted to people through an intermediate species, according to the study, which called for a slew of additional investigations.
Further back-tracing of how the earliest known cases became infected; establishing a more detailed understanding of which live animals were sold in Wuhan markets before the pandemic; and testing blood samples stored in blood banks since late 2019—including in parts of China where banks are scheduled to throw away their samples after two years, a deadline that is fast approaching—were among the studies recommended.
The first team determined that the virus could not have escaped from a facility in Wuhan, mainly because no documentation of the lab cultivating a virus identical enough to have caused the epidemic exists. Many other experts, including WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, have now disputed their findings.
During a visit by a WHO team researching the origins of the new coronavirus in 2021, security officers stood outside the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
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The new WHO team will also work to expedite investigations into the origins of newly identified viruses. In a webinar earlier this year, Marion Koopmans, a Dutch virologist who was a part of both the WHO delegation that visited Wuhan and the newly created team, recommended that such queries should become standard during outbreaks.
The WHO’s health-emergencies program’s head of emerging diseases and zoonoses, Dr. Tedros, Dr. Ryan, and Dr. Maria van Kerkhove, published an editorial in the academic journal Science on Wednesday claiming that politics has hampered the investigation into the origins of a virus that has killed at least 4.8 million people. They urged experts to undertake the study suggested by the first team as soon as possible, as well as better prepare for the next epidemic.
Dr. Tedros and his co-authors also urged for a more thorough investigation into whether the pandemic was triggered by a lab accident in Wuhan.
“A lab accident cannot be ruled out until adequate evidence is gathered and the findings are made public,” they said. “Politicalization has harmed scientific processes, which is why the world scientific community must redouble efforts to advance the scientific process.”
Questions about the virus that caused the Covid-19 epidemic have revived a discussion over a problematic sort of study that may include changing the genetic code of viruses. Daniela Hernandez of the Wall Street Journal discusses increase of function. Sebastian Vega’s illustration
Covid-19’s Origins are being investigated.
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