International team sent to Wuhan to examine origins of SARS-CoV-2 virus says it had difficulties getting access to raw data

By Peter Kenny

The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) on Tuesday called for further studies after the release of an inconclusive report on an international team’s recent field visit to Wuhan, China to conduct research on the origins of the novel coronavirus, citing difficulties accessing raw data.

“In my discussions with the team, they expressed the difficulties they encountered in accessing raw data,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus after the official release of the report on the origin of the SARS-CoV-2 virus after the visit on January 14-February 10.

The investigation was ordered by the World Health Assembly, the WHO’s highest decision-making body, in May 2020 “to identify the zoonotic source” of the virus thought to have jumped from animals to humans.

“I expect future collaborative studies to include more timely and comprehensive data sharing,” said the WHO chief, adding: “As far as WHO is concerned, all hypotheses remain on the table.”

Scientists involved said at a press conference that the report was a “process” and that viruses “don’t think about national boundaries.”

The team concluded that a laboratory leak was the least likely hypothesis for the virus that causes COVID-19, but the WHO said further investigation is needed.

Tedros said that finding the origin of a virus takes time. “We owe it to the world to find the source so we can collectively take steps to reduce the risk of this happening again. No single research trip can provide all the answers.”

He added that the report’s release was an important beginning but not the end of investigations.

“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 Tedros.

“I expect future collaborative studies to include more timely and comprehensive data sharing,” he said.

The WHO said that from the outset, this study was designed as one step on the path to understanding the origins of COVID-19, reflecting the specific scope and mandate as outlined by the member countries in the World Health Assembly resolution.

In its report, the team said the “overall results and findings would benefit improved global preparedness and response to SARS-CoV-2 and emerging zoonotic diseases of similar origin.”

The international team’s co-leaders were Danish food scientist Dr. Peter Ben Embarek and Chinese Professor Liang Wannian.

in a virtual press conference, Embarek also voiced Tedros’s assertion, that there were some challenges in “sharing some types of data, and we are working towards finding solutions on how we can get access and share these data in phase two studies.”

From the beginning of the pandemic, the WHO said it stressed the need to better understand the virus’s origin, the emergence of new pathogens, and possible exposures.

A few weeks into the outbreak, the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee of independent experts recommended that the WHO and China pursue efforts to identify the animal source of the virus.

Throughout 2020, the WHO said it continued to discuss the need to study and share information around the virus’ origins with China and the other member states.

*Source: Anadolu Agency