New probe could be the last chance to discover the origin of Covid, says the WHO.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a newly formed task force could probably be the “last chance” to investigate the origin of the novel coronavirus.
The United Nations Health Authority on Wednesday appointed a new panel of 26 experts to form the Scientific Advisory Group on the Origins of Novel Pathogens (Sago) to assess prominent and widely discussed theories on how the Sars-Cov-2 virus , the Covid-19 disease.
The task force will examine two prevailing theories about the origin of the virus, including whether it leaked from animals to humans or leaked in a laboratory accident.
“This is our best chance and it could be our last chance to understand the origins of this virus,” said Mike Ryan, WHO’s top emergency expert.
The WHO had tried to “take a step back and create an environment in which we can deal with the scientific questions again,” he was quoted by Reuters.
At least six of the Sago nominated experts visited China in an earlier investigation to find the origins of the coronavirus.
Under increasing pressure to find out where and how the virus originated, the WHO opened negotiations with China last year to launch an investigation.
A team of 10 researchers put together by the WHO visited Wuhan, China, in January this year, more than a year after the first Covid cases were identified there.
The group concluded that the coronavirus likely came from bats, but said more work was needed to understand it. The laboratory leak theory – which suggests the virus leaked into a laboratory in Wuhan – was “extremely unlikely,” the team said.
However, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said it was premature to rule out a possible link between the coronavirus and laboratory leak theory.
Mr Ghebreyesus said access to raw data in China had been a challenge for the international team and urged the Asian country to be more transparent about the investigation.
China said in August it opposes calls for re-investigations into the origins of Covid-19 and supports “scientific” efforts in relation to so-called “political” efforts to trace the origins of the virus.
China’s UN Ambassador to Geneva, Chen Xu, in response to Sago’s formation, said the task force’s work should not be politicized, adding that the investigation should be carried out in “other locations.”
“I believe that if we continue with scientific research, I believe that it should be a collaborative effort based on scientific evidence, not the intelligence community,” said Chen. “So when we talk about anything, we do all of the business under Sago,” he added.
The Sago Task Force has also been hired to investigate the origins of other high-risk pathogens. Mr Ghebreyesus said it is important to understand where new pathogens come from in order to prevent future disease outbreaks.