1 report, 4 theories: Scientists mull clues on virus’ origin

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The prolonged report is being revealed after months of wrangling, notably between U.S. and Chinese language governments, over how the outbreak emerged, whereas scientists attempt to preserve their deal with a so-far fruitless seek for the origin of a microbe that has killed over 2.7 million folks and stifled economies worldwide.

It wasn’t instantly clear when the report will probably be launched after its publication was delayed earlier this month. By many accounts, the report may provide few concrete solutions, and should increase additional questions.

It should provide a primary look in writing from 10 worldwide epidemiologists, knowledge scientists, veterinary, lab and meals security specialists who visited China and town of Wuhan — the place a market was seen because the preliminary epicenter — earlier this yr to work with Chinese language counterparts who pulled up the majority of early knowledge.

Critics have raised questions in regards to the objectivity of the staff, insisting that China’s authorities had a pivotal say over its composition. Defenders of the World Well being Group, which assembled the staff, say it could actually’t merely parachute in specialists to inform a rustic what to do — not to mention one as highly effective as China.

“I expect that this report will only be a first step into investigating the origins of the virus and that the WHO secretariat will probably say this,” said Matthew Kavanagh, director of Georgetown University’s Global Health Policy and Governance Initiative at the O’Neill Institute. “And I expect some to criticize this as insufficient.”

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The Wuhan trip is billed as Phase 1 in a vast undertaking to flesh out the origins of the virus.

The WHO has bristled at depictions of the mission as an “investigation” — saying that smacks of an invasive forensic probe that wasn’t called for under the resolution adopted unanimously by the agency’s member states in May that paved the way for the collaboration. The WHO and China later ironed out the ground rules.

Team member Vladimir Dedkov, an epidemiologist and deputy director of research at the St. Petersburg Pasteur Institute in Russia, summarized the four main leads first laid out at a marathon news conference in China last month about the suspected origins of the first infection in humans. They were, in order of likelihood: from a bat through an intermediary animal; straight from a bat; via contaminated frozen food products; from a leak from a laboratory like the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

Officials in China, as well as Chinese team leader Liang Wannian, have promoted the third theory — the cold-chain one — while the U.S. administration under President Donald Trump played up the fourth one, of the lab leak. But Dedkov said those two hypothesis were far down the list of likely sources.

He suggested frozen products on which the virus was found were most likely contaminated by infected people. An infected person also likely brought and spread the virus at the Wuhan market associated with the outbreak, where some of the contaminated products were later found.

“In general, all the conditions for the spread of infection were present at this market,” Dedkov mentioned in an interview. “Therefore, most likely, there was a mass infection of people who were connected by location.”

“At this level, there aren’t any details suggesting that there was a leak” from a lab, Dedkov said. “If suddenly scientific facts appear from somewhere, then accordingly, the priority of the version will change. But, at this particular moment, no.”

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Suspicions about political meddling have dogged the mission, and the international team leader — the WHO’s Peter Ben Embarek — acknowledged in interviews last week that unspecified “pressures” might weigh on its members. Liang, in a Chinese newspaper interview, also bemoaned political pressure on the team.

Delays in deploying the international team to China, repeated slippage in the timing of publication of the report, and rejiggering of the plans for it — an initial summary of findings was jettisoned as an idea — have only fanned speculation that the scientists have been steered by political authorities or others.

“The last understanding we had was that it is expected to come out this week — we’ll have to see if that actually happens,” the U.S. charge d’affaires in Geneva, Mark Cassayre, said on Wednesday. “We have a clear understanding that other studies will be required.”

He said the U.S. was hopeful the report would be a “real step forward for the world understanding the origins of the virus, so that we can better prepare for future pandemics. That’s really what this is about.”

The WHO leadership, including Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, repeatedly praised the Chinese government’s early response to the outbreak, though recordings of private meetings obtained by The Associated Press exposed how top WHO officials were frustrated at China’s lack of cooperation.

The international team was wholly reliant on data collected by Chinese scientists after the outbreak surfaced, and Dedkov called the visit to Wuhan an “analytical trip, mainly for the purpose of retrospective analysis in the sense that we studied only those facts that were obtained earlier.”

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“We did not collect any samples ourselves, we didn’t carry out any laboratory studies there, we just analyzed what we were being shown,” he mentioned. If some knowledge had not been collected, it wasn’t as a result of the Chinese language wished to hide one thing, he added.

The staff’s go to was politically delicate for China — which is worried about any allegations it didn’t deal with the preliminary outbreak correctly. Shortly after the outbreak, the Chinese language authorities detained some Chinese language medical doctors who sought to lift the alarm.

The report, which Ben Embarek mentioned final week took up about 280 pages, is ready to put out suggestions and lay the groundwork for subsequent steps — comparable to whether or not the staff, or others, get new entry to China for additional evaluation. In the end, the purpose is to seek out clues to assist stop one other such pandemic sooner or later.

Georgetown’s Kavanagh mentioned he hasn’t seen the report — however has suspicions about what it should say.

“Primarily based on what now we have heard thus far I count on that the report will seemingly lend some credence to a hyperlink between wildlife farming and COVID-19, however with out full proof about precisely how the transfer from animals into people might need occurred,” he mentioned.

Dedkov mentioned planning of “real-time research” is subsequent, however famous there’s no assure future journeys will discover all of the solutions.

“However one can strive,” he added. “In fact, if the supply of the origin of the virus is discovered, it should assist reply many questions and, basically, will dissipate this pointless political rigidity across the virus.”


Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed to this report.


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