PARIS: The UN-tasked experts cautioned on Wednesday that the quest for the roots of the Covid pandemic, which has killed millions and wrecked economies, is at a halt as time runs short.
The SARS-CoV-2 virus most likely leapt from bats to humans via an intermediary species, according to an early report by a team of independent international specialists sent to China by the World Health Organization in January.
A competing hypothesis that the virus somehow leaked from a lab, like the specialised virology laboratory in Wuhan, was deemed “extremely unlikely”.
However, 11 of the 17 scientists on the expedition stated in a statement published in the journal Nature that the mission was just meant to be a “first step in a halted process.”
They said, “The hunt for the origins of SARS-CoV-2 is at a critical juncture.” “The window of opportunity to conduct this critical investigation is rapidly closing.”
As evidence vanishes or becomes contaminated, tracing the biological path back to the disease’s early pockets, which first erupted in Wuhan in late 2019, becomes more difficult.
The announcement comes less than two weeks after the WHO urged China to send up information on the first Covid-19 cases in an attempt to restart the investigation.
According to the experts, this should include Covid data for 174 infections discovered in December 2019 that China failed to release during the initial examination.
At the time, the investigators stated that a second phase of research will fill up the gap.
However, China rebuffed the WHO request earlier this month, claiming that the January probe was sufficient and that calls for more data were motivated by politics rather than science.
The WHO meanwhile highlighted on Wednesday that the international experts’ report, published in March in coordination with their Chinese counterparts, had laid out a number of studies that should be conducted, insisting there was no reason to wait.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters at the UN health agency’s Geneva headquarters, “We have urged all parties to continue such research.”
Other WHO experts at the news briefing emphasised that there was no need to wait for another international trip to China before digging into the numerous additional research that were required, noting that there were many excellent Chinese scientists available to conduct the task.
“There is no impediment right now for those studies to go ahead, and Chinese colleagues don’t need WHO to hold their hands through this kind of a process,” WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan agreed.