The World Health Organization (WHO) formed a new advisory group on Thursday and said that the new group on dangerous pathogens may be “our last chance" to determine the origins of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The health body has urged China- the country where the virus was first found, to provide data from early cases.
In December 2019, the first human cases of COVID-19 was reported in the central Chinese city of Wuhan. Ever since the pandemic wreaked havoc across the world, WHO has been studying its origin and China has repeatedly dismissed theories that the virus was leaked from one of its laboratories. China has said no more visits are needed, Reuters reported.
However, in the first phase of the investigation, the WHO report concluded that the virus possibly made its way to the human population through direct zootonic transmission. It further said that introduction through an intermediate host or through the cold food chain products is also likely.
What was the aim of the investigation?
A biologist on the team travelling to Wuhan told the Associated Press news agency that the WHO was not seeking to apportion blame, but rather to prevent future outbreaks. “It’s really not about finding a guilty country," Fabian Leendertz of Germany’s Robert Koch Institute told BBC. It is about trying to understand what happened and then see if, based on those data, we can try to reduce the risk in the future, he said. Dr Leendertz said the aim was to find out when the virus began circulating and whether or not it originated in Wuhan.
When did the WHO team first visit China?
A WHO delegation first visited Wuhan in China in January 2020. Reportedly, the team visited the Wuhan Tianhe Airport, Zhongnan hospital, and Hubei provincial CDC, including the BSL3 laboratory in China’s Center for Disease Control (CDC).
Then earlier this year, another team of experts visited China’s Wuhan, where the first Covid-19 case was reported and the team spent four weeks in the city working with Chinese scientists, the group submitted a joint report in March. The report stated that the virus had probably been transmitted from bats to humans through another animal but further research was needed. WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has said that the investigation was hampered by a dearth of raw data pertaining to the first days of the outbreak’s spread and has called for lab audits.
Who are part of the second panel?
WHO proposed 26 experts to form its new Scientific Advisory Group for the Origins of novel pathogens, including several who served on its mission to Wuhan, China, Reuters reported. The statement named the 26 proposed members ahead of a two-week period of public consultation, including Marion Koopmans, Thea Fischer, Hung Nguyen and Chinese animal health expert Yang Yungui, who took part in the joint investigation this year. The panel also includes an India origin epidemiologist- Dr Raman Gangakhedkar. He is the former head of epidemiology and communicable diseases at the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).
WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement, “understanding where new pathogens come from is essential for preventing future outbreaks with epidemic and pandemic potential, and requires a broad range of expertise. We are very pleased with the calibre of experts selected for SAGO from around the world,"
The WHO launched the request for applications last August, saying it was looking for the greatest scientific minds to advise on investigations into new high-threat pathogens that jump from animals to humans and could spark the next pandemic.
What has China said on WHO probe?
In October, China’s Foreign Ministry warned against what it called possible “political manipulation” of a renewed probe by the World Health Organization into the origins of the coronavirus, while saying it would support the international body’s efforts, AP reported.
Earlier, Beijing has been accused of withholding raw data on early cases during a visit by a WHO team in February and has since resisted calls for further investigation, saying the U.S. and others were politicizing the matter.
What has been the global response to WHO’s Probe?
China’s tackling of the developing crisis was praised in January by the head of the WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme, Dr Mike Ryan, who said the “challenge is great but the response has been massive.” However, the US - among a number of other countries raised several questions about whether China was fully transparent when the virus first emerged there. Former President Donald Trump later attacked the WHO itself for being too “China-centric" in praising Beijing. He said that the organisation “really blew it" with its early guidance during the outbreak.