Covid-19: the thesis of a lab leak deserves further study, according to the WHO

For the time being, the WHO recalls the absence of definitive evidence on the origin of the pandemic.

The thesis of the Covid-19 virus that escaped from a laboratory in China deserves to “further research“, Estimate Thursday, June 9, experts appointed by the WHO, who insist on the absence for the time being of definitive evidence on the origin of the pandemic, whatever the scenario considered.

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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 a passage of the Covid-19 virus from bats to humans through an intermediate animal. , not identified. “This preliminary report is not intended – and indeed it does not – to make definitive conclusions about the origins of Sars-Cov2 because more information is needed from the studies that the report recommends.“, warn the experts of the Scientific Advisory Group on the Origins of New Pathogens (SAGO).

SAGO’s mission goes far beyond the framework of the sole investigation of the origins of Covid-19 and it must above all establish a catalog of best practices to enable better and faster detection of the vector of the next pandemic. But attention is naturally focused on the origin of Sars-Cov2, a virus which has killed around fifteen million people according to the WHO, since the first cases identified in the Chinese city of Wuhan at the end of 2019. The debate on the origins is virulent in the scientific community but it has above all taken on a political dimension which complicates the investigation.

A lack of data

A first mixed group of international and Chinese scientists, who had investigated in China at the beginning of 2021 after long negotiations with the authorities, had favored the thesis of the intermediate animal and the departure from a market in Wuhan. He had caused an uproar by almost dismissing the thesis of the flight of a laboratory from this city – despite a lack of data to the point of obliging the boss of the WHO, 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 pursue this track. “Just because we talk about it doesn’t mean we think it’s the explanation“, underlined the president of SAGO, Marietjie Venter, who estimates that for the time being “the strongest clues point to a zoonosis“. But “we have to be open-minded and cover all assumptions“, Including that of the leak of a laboratory, added the co-president, Jean-Claude Manuguerra, during a press briefing.

And more than two and a half years after the start of the crisis, SAGO recognizes “that key data is still missing to understand how the Covid-19 pandemic started» even if progress has been made, for example, on the identification of animals likely to play the role of intermediary. Verifications are also underway on possible cases outside China before those detected in Wuhan, in particular in Italy but also in France and the United States. The group stressed that it “only had access to information made available to them in published documents or presentationsof invited scientists, especially Chinese, and not to raw data. He therefore draws up a long list of wishes of several pages detailing the additional studies necessary in his eyes to try to move forward in the investigation. The active collaboration of the Chinese authorities will be necessary for a good number of these requests, including on the laboratory component, an ultra-sensitive subject.

We do not have the mandate to enter a country, anywhere in the world, and we need the collaboration and cooperation of countriesto carry out 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 on each of the studies that have been recommended.in the report, she assured. Dr Tedros for his part insisted that it was crucial that the work of scientists to determine the origins of Covid “be completely separate from politics“.


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Covid-19: the thesis of a lab leak deserves further study, according to the WHO


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