As WHO probes origin of coronavirus without ruling out laboratory leak

  • research 200,000 Chinese blood samples that ‘hidden’ the origins of the coronavirus pandemic
  • China Kovid-19, a year later, the WHO team reached Wuhan to investigate the origin of the epidemic

Two and a half years later, with more than 530 million infections and 6 million deaths, We still don’t know where it came from And how is the virus caused The first major pandemic of the 21st century,

Answers wanted from a team made up of the scientific community Top 27 virus hunters in the world who were recruited by the WHO late last year to try to understand the origins of SARS-CoV-2. That team, called the Scientific Advisory Group on the Origin of New Pathogens, is abbreviated in English as sagoSpent eight months in silence, until it was published on a Thursday The first report that maintains practically the same principles and unknowns which appears in a dossier written by the first WHO team to travel in February 2021 wuhanWhich has been designated as the epicenter of the pandemic.

The condition that prevails is zoonotic origin and Bats are prime candidates to be the original host of SARS-CoV-2, but intermediate host is unknown Before the coronavirus spread to humans. It is also not clear when and where it started spreading.

Could it be the leak at the maximum security laboratory in Wuhan where they worked with pathogens, the dangerous cousins ​​of the current coronavirus? Researchers don’t close the door on this theory, but for now, as the latest report highlights, there is no new data to support that the virus escaped the laboratory.

“The strongest evidence is zoonotic transmission,” said Maritji Venter, WHO team leader and a virologist at the University of Pretoria in South Africa. She was in charge of presenting the 46-page report. “However, the precursor viruses identified in bats are not definitively close enough to be viruses that spread to humans,” Venter said.

Coronaviruses found in horseshoe bats in southern China, which are the same ones being studied at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, are one SARS-CoV-2 . genetic similarity of about 96% withSomething that represents a significant evolutionary distance for scientists is enough to make it doubt that humans had an intermediate carrier before they went.

Venter wanted to clarify that the WHO group’s report is based only on preliminary findings because the researchers “have not conducted their own studies, but reviewed existing research.” In other words, Thursday’s presentation does not address any doubts in the mystery, nor does it provide enough data that the international community was not aware of.

The SAGO team appeared in October 2021, when the Chinese authorities announced that they were going to analyze blood donations made during the year 2019 in Wuhan, collected at the city’s blood center, where there are about 200,000 samples, up to date. marked accordingly. and the location, which may contain important clues to the first antibodies that will help determine how, when and where Covid first entered humans. Experts from around the world, including WHO He had asked for those samples to be analyzed from the beginning of the pandemic. A request that China postponed for a year and a half,

To be precise, one of the few new contributions to the report comes from Chinese researchers who are also part of SAGO: they took blood samples from 40,000 people in Wuhan before the first official cases of Covid-19 emerged in December 2019. provide data on. ,

“Although 200 tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 antibodies, those antibodies were unable to neutralize the virus in a confirmatory test, suggesting they were false positives,” reads the report, which recommends “Search more aggressively” for first cases in 233 Wuhan Medical Clinic records And will also review pharmacy records between September and December 2019 to see if there are any unusual buying patterns that provide indications of early clusters of cases.

The problem, if one reads between the lines of some of the SAGO experts’ claims, is that published research suffers from some of the same limitations as the report jointly submitted by the WHO and China last year. In private, international organization officials complain about the limitations their Chinese allies often put in place when cooperating. In Beijing they defend that they have been transparent all the time, but that they are the ones who have to set the pace Because, in the words of an official of China’s National Health Commission, in the words of this newspaper, Western researchers are “infected by the political war against China.”

According to the SAGO document, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus sent letters to Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Health Minister Ma Xiaowei on February 14 and 21 respectively, requesting information on “various factors”, including the hypothesis of a laboratory leak. was involved. It was not clear if their letters were replied to from the Asian country.

“All hypotheses should be on the table until we have evidence that allows us to reject or accept certain hypotheses,” Ghebreyesus said Thursday. “This makes it all the more important that this scientific work be kept separate from politics,” he said.

The WHO leader knows that taking politics away from the investigation is going to be an impossible task, unless Peking continues to oppose further investigation into whether the virus may have leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. It also doesn’t help that Chinese officials every month revive theories that the coronavirus may have reached China via frozen food or that the actual source is a laboratory in the United States. The disparate theories emanating from the Asian giants only hinder a contact that should be regular, calm and scientific. between Chinese and international experts.

The SAGO report concludes by recommending a closer examination of environmental samples taken from the Huanan market, which has been designated as potential ground zero for infection, as well as “testing and auditing” those farms. which are transmitted to animals susceptible to SARS-CoV- 2 on the market.. A few months ago, a team led by Michael Vorobey, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Arizona, presented two pre-print concluding that “geographic clustering of the earliest known cases of COVID-19 and the proximity of environmental samples positive to live animal vendors” Suggestions that the wholesale seafood market was the site of origin of Covid-19,

Chinese researchers have always defended that they found no trace of the virus in thousands of animal samples taken from the market, but the WHO insists these findings prove little: raccoon dogs and red foxes in any sample. Not included are two very rare species. Susceptible to coronavirus present in Hunan market listing.

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