Twenty-one months after SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, was first identified, we are still not certain how the whole pandemic started. An initial inquiry by the World Health Organization (WHO) and a seperate US intelligence investigation have not been able to pinpoint its source. Now, the WHO is reportedly set to begin investigations again.
A team of specialists is being assembled and a phase 2 inquiry is now being planned, the Wall Street Journal reports. This comes a month after scientists who were part of the original phase 1 team published an article urging the WHO and world nations to act fast and work together if they want to find out where the virus came from. Time is running out before some biological studies become impossible, the researchers stressed.
According to the WSJ, the team will include about 20 scientists with a variety of specializations in zoonotic diseases – those that are passed to humans from animals – as well as geneticists and experts in biosecurity. The team will continue to look for evidence in China and elsewhere. Understanding the source of the pandemic could help humanity be better prepared against the next pandemic.
“The search for the origins of SARS-CoV-2 is at a critical juncture... Crucially, the window is rapidly closing on the biological feasibility of conducting the critical trace-back of people and animals inside and outside China. SARS-CoV-2 antibodies wane, so collecting further samples and testing people who might have been exposed before December 2019 will yield diminishing returns,” the phase 1 researchers wrote in their comment piece published in Nature last month.
Information available now that wasn't during the initial inquiry includes data published in Cell in August on SARS-CoV-2-related coronaviruses in bats in the Yuhan province and an inventory of live mammals for sale in Wuhan markets up until November 2019. These could be vital in understanding if and from which animal the virus jumped to humans.
The team will also investigate the so-called “lab-leak” hypothesis, the idea that the virus escaped from a lab in the city of Wuhan, where the virus was first identified, and where the Wuhan Institute of Virology resides. Although the initial WHO inquiry, the US intelligence report and multiple studies on the origins of COVID-19 before and after both reports think it highly unlikely the virus originated from a lab because the available evidence points to a zoonotic origin, becasue it cannot be definitively ruled out, it is still hypothetically on the table as an option.
As time is of the essence, hopefuly the phase 2 inquiry will get started as soon as possible and find once and for all the source of the pandemic.
[H/T: Wall Street Journal]