WHO report on Covid-19 origins explained

A panel of experts set up by the World Health Organization (WHO) to investigate The origins of the COVID-19 pandemic A framework for investigating future disease outbreaks has published its first report.

The committee, which was formed in October, is made up of 26 experts from around the world and is called the Scientific Advisory Group on Origins of Novel Pathogens (SAGO).

Her work follows a previous WHO and China report on COVID-19, and a US intelligence investigation, both of which indicated a natural origin for the epidemic, likely from bats, not a lab leak.

What does the WHO report say about bats?

The new report says animal origin is the most likely explanation for the emergence of the new coronavirus. The first human cases were reported in December 2019 in Wuhan, central China.

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However, it says that neither the original animal source, or intermediate host, nor the moment of transmission of the virus to humans has been determined.

Why was the origin not determined?

The report says this is mainly due to a lot of data missing, especially from China.

Chinese scientists provided more information, including blood samples from 40,000 Chinese donors in Wuhan from September to December 2019 when the epidemic emerged.

Chinese scientists said more than 200 samples initially tested positive for antibodies to Sars-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, but confirmatory tests were negative.

The World Health Organization has requested more information on this and other elements.

Could the lab leak theory be true?

The commission also said that no more information was provided about whether the coronavirus reached humans via a lab accident, which means more data and investigations are still important.

What is the next step?

She called for a number of studies to be conducted in both China and the world to shed more light on the origins of the epidemic.

These include additional studies of the first human cases in China, as well as efforts to track whether the virus was spreading in China – and elsewhere – before the first cases were discovered.

The World Health Organization said further work on potential animal hosts, particularly in bats, as well as on farm workers and animal products that had been in the Wuhan market – identified early on as a potential outbreak site – was also essential.

Marion Copmans, right, and Peter Benmbarek, center of the WHO team, bid farewell to their Chinese counterpart Liang Wanyan, left, after the press conference for the joint WHO-China study at the end of the WHO mission in Wuhan, China on February 9, 2021 ( AP Photo/Ng Han Guan, File)

What are the objectives of the committee?

The World Health Organization says the main goals of the SAGO committee are to develop a framework to investigate future outbreaks more effectively.

The report includes a list of work that needs to be done urgently to achieve this, which would ideally be in collaboration with the country where the outbreak is starting and WHO teams.

The studies required include “early investigation” into things like transmission patterns and human-to-human transmission, as well as looking for early cases, their travel history and exposure to animals, SAGO said.

There should also be plans for visits and “the systematic recording of information from the site of the first cases discovered,” she said, as well as the collection of early samples from animals, humans and the wider environment.

The meeting will continue to discuss progress in this matter, and will also discuss work to identify the origins of some SARS-CoV-2 variants, as well as the spread of known pathogens, such as the recent outbreak of monkeypox.

The team also recommended further work on biosafety and security.

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