Until the source of this virus is identified and controlled, there is a risk of reintroduction of the virus into the human population and the risk of new outbreaks like the ones we are currently experiencing.
Geneva / Washington DC: The WHO report on Origin of SARS-CoV-2 says at this stage, it is not possible to determine precisely how humans in China were initially infected with SARS-CoV-2. However, all available evidence suggests that SARS-CoV-2 has a natural animal origin and is not a manipulated or constructed virus. SARSCoV-2 virus most probably has its ecological reservoir in bats.
A number of investigations in the area believed to be the source of the outbreak in China are currently underway or planned. These include investigations of human cases with symptom onset in and around Wuhan in late 2019, environmental sampling from markets and farms in areas where the first human cases were identified, and detailed records on the source and type of wildlife species and farmed animals sold in these markets.
On Tuesday, March 30, when the report of the international team on their Wuhan field visit, from 14 January -10 February 2021, was published, WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called for further studies, including data on origin of SARS-CoV-2 virus. Who has reiterated that all hypotheses remain open.
WHO chief said the report advances our understanding in important ways, while raising questions that will need to be addressed by further studies.
We have not yet found the source of the virus, and we must continue to follow the science and leave no stone unturned as we do,” said Dr Tedros
Throughout 2020, WHO continued to discuss with China and other Member States the need to study and share information around the virus origins.
In July 2020 WHO sent a small team to China to plan a joint study comprising Chinese and independent international scientists.
It was agreed that WHO would select the international scientists. The Terms of Reference for the Virus Origins Study were completed by fall 2020.
The World Health Assembly resolution of May 2020, which was adopted by all Member States, cited a need “to identify the zoonotic source”:
The team of scientists came from around the world: Australia, China, Denmark, Germany, Japan, Kenya, Netherlands, Qatar, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, the United States of America and Viet Nam.
The joint international team comprised 17 Chinese and 17 international experts from 10 other countries as well as the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE); and WHO.
Members of the international team:
Prof. Dr. Thea Fisher, MD, DMSc(PhD) (Nordsjællands Hospital, Denmark)
Prof. John Watson (Public Health England, United Kingdom)
Prof. Dr. Marion Koopmans, DVM PhD (Erasmus MC, Netherlands)
Prof. Dr. Dominic Dwyer, MD (Westmead Hospital, Australia)
Vladimir Dedkov, Ph.D (Institute Pasteur, Russia)
Dr. Hung Nguyen-Viet, PhD (International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), Vietnam)
PD. Dr. med vet. Fabian Leendertz (Robert Koch-Institute, Germany)
Dr. Peter Daszak, Ph.D (EcoHealth Alliance, USA)
Dr. Farag El Moubasher, Ph.D (Ministry of Public Health, Qatar)
Prof. Dr. Ken Maeda, PhD, DVM (National Institute of Infectious Diseases, Japan)
The Governments of the United States of America, Australia, Canada, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Israel, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, the Republic of Korea, Slovenia, and the United Kingdom on Tuesday issued a joint statement sharing concerns that concerns that the international expert study on the source of the SARS-CoV-2 virus was significantly delayed and lacked access to complete, original data and samples. Scientific missions like these should be able to do their work under conditions that produce independent and objective recommendations and findings.
Together, we support a transparent and independent analysis and evaluation, free from interference and undue influence, of the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic. In this regard, we join in expressing shared concerns regarding the recent WHO-convened study in China, while at the same time reinforcing the importance of working together toward the development and use of a swift, effective, transparent, science-based, and independent process for international evaluations of such outbreaks of unknown origin in the future, the joint statement says.
Taking note of the findings and recommendations, including the need for further studies of animals to find the means of introduction into humans, these countries have laid stress on momentum for expert-driven phase 2 studies. Going forward, there must now be a renewed commitment by WHO and all Member States to access, transparency, and timeliness.
In a serious outbreak of an unknown pathogen with pandemic potential, it has been underscored that a rapid, independent, expert-led, and unimpeded evaluation of the origins is critical to better prepare our people, our public health institutions, our industries, and our governments to respond successfully to such an outbreak and prevent future pandemics.