Home Health WHO releases report of the joint WHO-China investigation of COVID-19 origins

WHO releases report of the joint WHO-China investigation of COVID-19 origins

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By Zhang Penghui, Zhang Jinruo, People’s Daily

On March 30, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported on the joint WHO-China study of COVID-19 origins in Geneva, Switzerland, and released a report: WHO-convened Global Study of Origins of SARS-CoV-2: China Part. The report said that the lab-leak theory is “extremely unlikely.”

A joint study was conducted from 14 January to 10 February 2021 in the city of Wuhan, China. The joint international team comprised 17 Chinese and 17 international experts from other countries. They made studies in the areas of the following three parts, epidemiology, animals and environment, and the molecular epidemiology and bioinformatics.

The 120-page document, composed after the team’s 28-day field study in Wuhan, the capital city of China’s Hubei Province earlier this year, shed light on the likeliness of different pathways for the origins of COVID-19. 

They concluded that it’s a “likely to very likely pathway” for the virus to infect humans through an intermediate host, while introduction of the virus through a laboratory incident was “extremely unlikely.” And in between, direct zoonotic spillover is considered to be a possible-to-likely pathway, while cold food chain products are a possible pathway.

The report also mentioned that “some of the suspected positive samples were detected even earlier than the first case in Wuhan, suggesting the possibility of missed circulation in other countries,”  adding that “Nonetheless, it is important to investigate these potential early events.”

The report also raised recommendations for further study from the joint international team, including continuing to develop an integrated global database, sequencing early cases or samples collected in future SARS-CoV-2-global tracing studies, establishing a global expert group to support joint traceability research on the suspected origin of the epidemic, and analyzing the different role of the cold chain in the possible introduction of the virus in a market and the possible spread within a market following the introduction of the virus in a market by an infected human. 

A Member State Briefing on the report of the international team studying the origins of SARS-CoV-2 is held on the same day. Peter K. Ben Embarek, leader of the international team of experts to Wuhan, introduced the field work and research results of the team, extending the team’s collective sincere thanks to Wuhan locals for their cooperation during their research.

Liang Wannian, leader of the Chinese team of experts, said that the report is the joint efforts of Chinese and foreign experts. He emphasized that the team adhered to scientific method in the research cooperation based on evidence. It is part of the global tracing study. All the conclusions and recommendations of the report are based on a global perspective, and future research will not be limited to a certain region. 

Chen Xu, head of the Chinese Mission to the United Nations in Geneva, said that the international experts from China and the WHO had demonstrated a scientific and open spirit and the Chinese government at all levels had provided necessary assistance for their work in Wuhan, which fully reflected the open, transparent and responsible attitude of China, and was highly appreciated by experts from both sides. The traceability research is a scientific work that should be carried out by global scientists. It is also a global task. The China-WHO joint research will play a good role in promoting traceability in other countries and regions around the world, and provide positive and useful guidance for better understanding the virus.

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