laboratory leak thesis deserves additional examine (WHO)

GENEVA (awp / afp) – The thesis about the Covid-19 virus, which escaped from a laboratory in China, deserves “further research”, experts appointed by the World Health Organization (WHO) say on Thursday, who so far insist on the absence to be definitive evidence of origin of the pandemic, regardless of the scenario considered.

These 27 experts, covering a wide range of disciplines, have also drawn up a list of additional studies to be carried out on the theory of the transmission of Covid-19 virus from bats to humans via a transitional animal. , unidentified.

“This interim report does not – and does not provide – definitive conclusions about the origin of Sars-Cov2, as more information is needed from the studies the report recommends,” warn experts from the Scientific Advisory Group on the Origin of New Pathogens (SAGO).

SAGO’s mission goes far beyond the COVID-19 origin investigation itself and, above all, it must create a catalog of best practices so that the vector of the next pandemic can be better and more quickly identified.

However, attention is naturally focused on the origins of the Sars-Cov2 virus, which, according to the WHO, has killed 15 million people since the first cases were identified in the Chinese city of Wuhan at the end of 2019.

The debate on origins is virulent in the scientific community, but above all it has taken on a political dimension that complicates investigations.

The first mixed group of international and Chinese scientists, who investigated in China in early 2021 after lengthy negotiations with the authorities, preferred the thesis of a transitional animal and leaving the market in Wuhan.

He caused the uproar by almost rejecting the thesis of a laboratory leak in the city – despite the lack of data – to such an extent that he forced WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to put it back on the table.

Three SAGO experts from China, Brazil and Russia felt that there was no need to continue on this path.

“Just because we’re talking about it doesn’t mean we think it’s an explanation,” said SAGO President Marietjie Venter, who believes “so far the strongest clues point to zoonosis.”

“We must keep an open mind and cover all hypotheses,” including the laboratory leak hypothesis, co-chair Jean-Claude Manuguerra added at the press briefing.

Lack of data

And more than two and a half years after the crisis began, SAGO recognizes “that key data to understand how the Covid-19 pandemic began was still lacking,” although progress has been made, such as animal identification. play the role of mediator.

Possible cases outside China are also being investigated before those found in Wuhan, especially in Italy, but also in France and the United States.

The group emphasized that “visiting scientists, mainly Chinese, had access to the information made available to it in published documents or presentations” and not to the raw data.

He therefore draws up a long list of wishes on several pages, detailing the additional studies needed in his eyes to try to move forward in the investigation.

The active cooperation of the Chinese authorities will be necessary for a large number of these requests, including the laboratory component, which is an extremely sensitive topic.

“We do not have a mandate to enter the country anywhere in the world and we need the cooperation and cooperation of countries” to conduct these investigations, recalled Maria van Kerkhove, who oversees the fight against Covid-19 at the WHO.

“We will continue to work with our colleagues in China to see how we can move forward with each of the recommended studies,” she said in a report.

Dr Tedros, for his part, insisted that it was crucial that the work of scientists in determining Covid’s origins was “completely separate from politics.”

afp / jh

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