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WHO and China do not find the missing link in the pandemic

  • Investigation

    One of the members of the WHO mission accuses China of hiding data on the origin of the coronavirus

  • Origin of the virus.

    WHO’s ‘errands’ to uncover the truth in China: the world’s best virus hunters

“Direct zoontic effusion (from animal to human) is considered a possible to probable pathway; introduction through a animal host intermediate is a probable or very probable way; introduction through food chain products (frozen) is considered a possible route; introduction through a laboratory incident it was an extremely unlikely path. “Conclusions of the WHO report presented March 30, 2021.

When the world’s best virus hunters landed in Wuhan on January 14, there were high expectations about the truths they were to discover in the epicenter of the pandemic. All the attention went to those virologists, epidemiologists, veterinarians and experts in food safety chosen by the World Health Organization (WHO) to visit the Huanan market, indicated as possible zero zone of contagion, the maximum security laboratory that studied bat coronavirus, interview the first patients and the first doctors who treated the coronavirus …

The world longed for answers to understand where a pandemic comes from that has already left 128 million people infected and killed nearly three million. “All the hypotheses remain on the table. we have not found the source of the virus and we must continue to pay attention, “he said this Thursday Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the WHO, who has surprised with his critical and unexpected analysis of the report presented by experts that the organization he leads sent to Wuhan, hinting that there has been a lack of access to data by China.

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“The report presents a comprehensive review of the available data, suggesting that there was transmission not recognized in December 2019, and possibly before. The team reports that the first detected case had an onset of symptoms on December 8, 2019. But to understand the first cases, scientists will benefit from full access to data, including biological samples from at least September 2019. ” Tedros explained. “In my discussions with the team, they expressed the difficulties they encountered in accessing the raw data. I hope that future collaborative studies will include a data exchange more complete and timely “.

The WHO director also does not share that the “extremely unlikely” The hypothesis of a laboratory leak is defined that way. “I don’t think this evaluation was extensive enough. More data and studies will be needed to reach stronger conclusions.”

Many unresolved questions appear in the new report that the WHO has written. The same report that the team of researchers promised to publish in late February. The delay caused expectations to skyrocket over the possible discoveries. Likewise, he fired accusations from many countries towards China, holding the Asian country responsible for stopping the release of the full report. Political battles intruded on science again, as has happened since the first outbreak in Wuhan. Scientists, on the other hand, have been cautious from the start. They know that this type of investigation takes, at the very least, many months. Even years.

The report presented this Tuesday afternoon is 120 pages long and is jointly written by a team made up of 17 WHO scientists and another 17 Chinese scientists. The discrepancy on a key point in the investigation is striking: the Huanan market. In separate interviews that the researchers of both teams have given to different media, it can be seen how, by the WHO scientists, they maintain that there is evidence that they are sold in the market live wild animals, while the Chinese emphatically deny it.

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The investigation has been surrounded by controversy from the beginning because it has been peppered with the new Cold War between China and the United States. “We have real concerns about the methodology and process that was included in that report, including the fact that the Beijing government apparently helped draft it,” said the secretary of state. Antony Blink in an interview Sunday with CNN.

“Is the United States trying to exert political pressure on the WHO experts? China was the first to report the epidemic to the WHO and the first to release key information such as the genetic sequence of the new coronavirus. We will never accept the unfounded accusations and the rampant denigration of the United States, “he replied on Monday Zhao Lijian, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China. From Beijing they have hinted in recent weeks that several countries are “pressuring” the WHO in its investigations into the origins of the coronavirus.

In the document presented on Tuesday, the experts rule out, as they had previously done, the possibility that SARS-CoV-2 came out of a laboratory. “It is extremely unlikely,” reads the report. “Three laboratories in Wuhan that were working with coronavirus had high quality biosafety levels well managed, and there were no reports of compatible respiratory illnesses among staff during the previous months. They also had not tested positive for the SARS-CoV-2 virus on subsequent blood tests for antibodies. ”

The prevailing theory holds: the virus originated in bats, jumped onto another animal, and muttered in a way that later allowed it to spread from human to human. The main issue remains to find the intermediate host, the missing link in the chain of contagions. “The closest relative of the virus that causes Covid-19 has been found in bats, which are known to be carriers. But the evolutionary distance between these bat viruses and SARS-CoV-2 is estimated to be several decades, which suggests a missing link, “reads the report.

To unravel that mystery, all the spotlights were on the mercado de Huanan, where the first cases were reported in December 2019. There, in an area of ​​50,000 square meters, in addition to shellfish and fish, wild animals are also sold. Both alive and dead, as the merchants themselves recognized in interviews with local media in early 2020.

Many of the animals came from farms in the mountains of Huangpi city, 40 kilometers from Wuhan. Others from farms in the southern provinces of Yunnan, Guangxi and Guangdong, where the virus’s closest known relatives, the horseshoe bats, originate. Also, as the new report points out, they could be animals from other Southeast Asian countries.

The report breaks down several tables indicating the first positive cases detected related to the market. In the case of sellers who were infected, the product they sell is also indicated. “The findings suggest that the circulation of SARS-CoV-2 preceded the initial detection of cases by several weeks. Some of the suspicious positive samples were detected even earlier than the first case in Wuhan, suggesting the possibility of lost circulation in other countries. However, so far, the quality of the studies is limited. However, it is important to investigate these possible early events, “says the paper.

“There could be dozens of possible host species of which it is known that they could harbor new coronaviruses based on this new virus, “he continues.” The new coronavirus could recombine with others in species where these viruses had already been observed, such as the civet, the horseshoe bat, the pangoln, the hedgehog, the rabbit, or the cat. ”

The WHO researchers insist they have yet to make a Inventory accurate of all creatures sold in the Huanan market, legally or illegally, alive or dead. Also, the team wants China to conduct widespread testing of its mink farms, after the discovery that the virus had spread between minks and humans in Europe.

The Dutch Virologist Marion Koopmans, a member of the WHO team, who succeeded in getting the Government of the Netherlands to close mink farms in their country after demonstrating transmission, also identified the badgers and rabbits as animals capable of carrying and spreading the virus.

Another of the experts, the zologo Peter Daszak, said in an interview with CNN that badgers were among the corpses found in freezers in the Huanan market and that, although they tested negative, they were capable of carrying the virus, just like rabbits.

The international team has also pointed out that the investigation should cover other countries. “Especially Southeast Asia, where similar coronaviruses have recently been found, including Thailand and Cambodia. I think it is quite possible that an animal has crossed the border, “added Daszak, who during the writing of the report was the main interlocutor with the team of Chinese scientists, who co-leads the zologo Tong Yigang, professor at the Peking University of Chemical Technology.

“There were rumors that live animals are being sold on the market, but that is not the case. However, the team did not come to a full agreement on this. The Chinese government had carried out a large-scale animal monitoring program. domestic and wild since the outbreak to see if they contracted the virus before or after the pandemic. We reviewed the results and found no evidence, “said Tong in an interview on Tuesday with the Chinese channel CGTN, contradicting, curiously, the version of his colleagues of the WHO, who affirm that they do have evidence that live animals are sold in the Huanan market.

During the interview, the Chinese expert deflects focus from wuhan towards the possibility that “the virus entered the market through frozen products.” It also focuses on Southeast Asia: “Current scientific evidence shows that some bats and pangolins carry viruses related to SARS-CoV-2 and these virus-carrying bats are reported to be found in Southeast Asian countries, as well as in Yunnan (southern China). Pangolins carrying SARS-CoV-2-related viruses were smuggled from Southeast Asia. There is a possibility that the virus came from there. “

According to the criteria of

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