'Window is closing quickly' to gather key evidence on virus origins, scientists say

Experts studying the origins of the coronavirus for the World Health Organization warned Wednesday that the investigation was “at a stan...


Experts studying the origins of the coronavirus for the World Health Organization warned Wednesday that the investigation was “at a standstill” and that further delays could make it impossible to recover crucial evidence on the start of the pandemic.

“The window is quickly closing on the biological feasibility of critically researching people and animals inside and outside China,” the experts wrote in a statement. editorial in the journal Nature. Several studies of blood samples and wildlife farms in China were urgently needed to understand how Covid-19 emerged, they said.

Amid a bitter debate over whether a lab incident could have triggered the pandemic, the editorial amounted to a defense of the team’s work and a call for follow-up studies. A separate report by US intelligence agencies on the origins of the pandemic has been delivered to President Biden on Tuesday, but offered no new answer as to whether the virus emerged from a lab or whether it spread naturally from animals to humans.

The team of international experts, sent to Wuhan, China, in January as part of a joint investigation by the World Health Organization and China, has been criticized for issuing a report in March that a leak of the coronavirus from a lab, although possible, was “extremely unlikely. “

Immediately after the report’s publication, the WHO Director-General said the study had not properly assessed the possibility from a laboratory leak.

Virologists have looked into the theory that infected animals transmit the virus to humans. In the editorial published on Wednesday, the team of experts reiterated their calls to test the blood of workers at wildlife farms who supplied animals to Wuhan markets, to see if they carried antibodies. indicating past coronavirus infections. The team also recommended testing more wild animals or livestock that may have been infected. (The editorial also notes, somewhat pessimistically, that many Chinese wildlife farms have been closed and their animals killed since the outbreak of the pandemic, making it difficult to prove a transfer. early from animals to humans.)

The team reported a recent report showing that Wuhan markets had sold live animals susceptible to the virus, including palm civets and raccoon dogs, in the two years before the start of the pandemic, and argued that the weight of evidence behind a natural spillover was greater than that of a lab leak.

Marion Koopmans, a Dutch virologist and co-author of the editorial, described it in an interview as an “emergency call”.

“We were a little worried that there is hardly any debate on the bulk of the recommendations that are unrelated to the lab hypothesis, and of course there is a lot of discussion about the story. from the lab, especially from the United States, ”she said. noted. “Our concern is that because of this focus, the rest doesn’t get any more attention.”

To identify the first cases of the virus, Dr Koopmans said, scientists also had to examine blood samples from late 2019 before they were thrown away. The team of experts was assured during its visit to Wuhan that blood banks would keep samples there beyond the usual two-year period, she said, but still did not. not had access.

The Chinese government has stopped cooperating with WHO investigations, making it difficult to assess theories about the origins of the virus.

Wednesday’s editorial also raised concerns about delays at the WHO. The organization said this month that it will form an advisory group to study the emergence of new pathogens, and that the group will support investigations into the coronavirus. The editorial warned that this new layer of bureaucracy “risks adding several months of delay.”

The organization said in a statement that “the establishment of the advisory group will not delay the progress of studies into the origins of the virus,” and that it has already worked to verify studies on the first known cases outside China. .

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Newsrust - US Top News: 'Window is closing quickly' to gather key evidence on virus origins, scientists say
'Window is closing quickly' to gather key evidence on virus origins, scientists say
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