The World Health Organization on Wednesday appointed 26 scientists to a new advisory group tasked with studying the origins of the coronavirus, opening another chapter of painstaking research into how the pandemic began.
The group, selected from more than 700 applicants, includes scientists from 26 countries, a reflection of the WHO’s effort to garner broad international support for the work.
Among them are an American researcher Dr. Inger Damon, an on-site Ebola response veteran who directs work on highly deadly diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and a Chinese scientist. Chinese scientist, Dr. Yungui Yang, is deputy director at the Beijing Institute of Genomics at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, a government institution.
With this new group, WHO is trying to revive its study on the origin of the pandemic. That work that was stalled in a political rivalry between China and the United States and concerns about scientists’ conflicts of interest after the WHO sent a previous team to China in early 2021.
The result of that visit was a joint report by the WHO-selected team from China that said a coronavirus leak from a laboratory, while possible, was extremely impossible, a conclusion that WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, later called premature Me
Six members of that WHO distributed team have joined the new advisory group. The committee also includes the head of a Swiss biosafety center, an indicator of WHO efforts to ensure that a laboratory leak is taken into account along with scenarios in which the virus spread naturally from animals to humans.
A laboratory accident cannot be ruled out until there is sufficient evidence to do so and these results are openly shared, Dr. Tedros and two senior WHO officials wrote in an editorial in Science outlining the mandate of advisory groups.
After a two-week period of public commentary that is common before the WHO advisory groups are set up, the committee will begin to meet.
WHO officials said the group would evaluate recent studies, including those describing bats sheltering relatives of the virus after Covid-19, and would advise the organization on what future studies were potentially needed, including field research in China.
China has reacted angrily to the idea that the virus may have come from a laboratory and, analysts have said, is almost certain to resist outside requests to visit research centers, bats’ caves or animal farms. wild within its boundaries.
Unlike the last WHO team, which met specifically for the visit to China, the new committee will also have a mandate to weigh in on the emergence of any new pathogens beyond the coronavirus, giving it a consistency that the WHO hopes to help isolate him from political squabbles.
At a news conference Wednesday, Dr Michael Ryan, executive director of the WHO Health Emergency Program, said it was impossible to ignore obstacles like the national pride that stands in the way of hunting down the origin of the coronavirus. But he said the new advisory group was an attempt to get back to the scientific issues at the core of that effort.
This is our best chance, he said. And it may be our last chance to understand the origin of this virus in a collegial and collective way and with mutual responsibility.
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