1 report, 4 theories : Scientists mull clues on virus’ origin

The lengthy report is being published after months of wrangling, notably between U.S. and Chinese governments, over how the outbreak emerged, while scientists attempt to keep their specialise in a so-far fruitless look for the origin of a microbe that has killed over 2.7 million people and stifled economies worldwide.

1 report, 4 theories : Scientists mull clues on virus’ origin
1 report, 4 theories : Scientists mull clues on virus’ origin

A team of international and Chinese scientists is poised to report on its joint look for the origins of the coronavirus that sparked an epidemic after it had been first detected in China over a year ago  with four theories being considered, and one the clear frontrunner, consistent with experts.

The lengthy report is being published after months of wrangling, notably between U.S. and Chinese governments, over how the outbreak emerged, while scientists attempt to keep their specialise in a so-far fruitless look for the origin of a microbe that has killed over 2.7 million people and stifled economies worldwide.It wasn’t immediately clear when the report are going to be released after its publication was delayed earlier this month. By many accounts, the report could offer few concrete answers, and should raise further questions.

It will offer a primary glance in writing from 10 international epidemiologists, data scientists, veterinary, lab and food safety experts who visited China and therefore the city of Wuhan — where a market was seen because the initial epicenter earlier this year to figure with Chinese counterparts who pulled up the majority of early data.

Critics have raised questions on the objectivity of the team, insisting that China’s government had a pivotal say over its composition. Defenders of the planet Health Organization, which assembled the team, say it can’t simply parachute in experts to inform a rustic what to try to to — including one as powerful as China.

“I expect that this report will only be a primary step into investigating the origins of the virus which the WHO secretariat will probably say this,” said Matthew Kavanagh, director of Georgetown University’s Global Health Policy and Governance Initiative at the O’Neill Institute. “And I expect some to criticize this as insufficient. i feel it's key to stay in mind that WHO has very limited powers.”

The Wuhan trip is billed as Phase 1 during a vast undertaking to flesh out the origins of the virus.The WHO has bristled at depictions of the mission as an “investigation” — saying that smacks of an invasive forensic probe that wasn’t involved under the resolution adopted unanimously by the agency’s member states in May that paved the way for the collaboration. The WHO and China later ironed out the bottom rules.

Team member Vladimir Dedkov, an epidemiologist and deputy director of research at the St. Petersburg Pasteur Institute in Russia, summarized the four main leads first laid out at a marathon press conference in China last month about the suspected origins of the primary infection in humans. They were, so as of likelihood: from a bat through an intermediary animal; straight from a bat; via contaminated frozen foods products; from a leak from a laboratory just like the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

Officials in China, also as Chinese team leader Liang Wannian, have promoted the third theory — the cold-chain one — while the U.S. administration under President Donald Trump played up the fourth one, of the lab leak. But Dedkov said those two hypothesis were far down the list of likely sources.

He suggested frozen products on which the virus was found were presumably contaminated by infected people. An infected person also likely brought and spread the virus at the Wuhan market related to the outbreak, where a number of the contaminated products were later found.“In general, all the conditions for the spread of infection were present at this market,” Dedkov said in an interview. “Therefore, presumably , there was a mass infection of individuals who were connected by location.”

“At now , there are not any facts suggesting that there was a leak” from a lab, Dedkov said. “If suddenly scientific facts appear from somewhere, then accordingly, the priority of the version will change. But, at this particular moment, no.”

Suspicions about political meddling have dogged the mission, and therefore the international team leader — the WHO’s Peter Ben Embarek — acknowledged in interviews last week that unspecified “pressures” might weigh down its members. Liang, during a Chinese newspaper interview, also bemoaned political pressure on the team.

Delays in deploying the international team to China, repeated slippage within the timing of publication of the report, and rejiggering of the plans for it — an initial summary of findings was jettisoned as a thought — have only fanned speculation that the scientists are steered by political authorities or others.

“The last understanding we had was that it's expected to return out in the week — we’ll need to see if that really happens,” the U.S. charge d’affaires in Geneva, Mark Cassayre, said on Wednesday. “We have a transparent understanding that other studies are going to be required.”

He said the U.S. was hopeful the report would be a “real breakthrough for the planet understanding the origins of the virus, in order that we will better steel oneself against future pandemics. That’s really what this is often about.”

The WHO leadership, including Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, repeatedly praised the Chinese government’s early response to the outbreak, though recordings of personal meetings obtained by The Associated Press exposed how top WHO officials were frustrated at China’s lack of cooperation.

The international team was wholly reliant on data collected by Chinese scientists after the outbreak surfaced, and Dedkov called the visit to Wuhan an “analytical trip, mainly for the aim of retrospective analysis within the sense that we studied only those facts that were obtained earlier.”“We didn't collect any samples ourselves, we didn’t perform any laboratory studies there, we just analyzed what we were being shown,” he said. If some data had not been collected, it wasn’t because the Chinese wanted to hide something, he added.

The team’s visit was politically sensitive for China — which cares about any allegations it didn’t handle the initial outbreak properly. Shortly after the outbreak, the Chinese government detained some Chinese doctors who sought to boost the alarm.

The report, which Ben Embarek said last week took up about 280 pages, is about to get out recommendations and lay the groundwork for next steps — like whether the team, or others, get new access to China for further analysis. Ultimately, the aim is to seek out clues to assist prevent another such pandemic within the future.

Georgetown’s Kavanagh said he hasn’t seen the report — but has suspicions about what it'll say.“Based on what we've heard thus far I expect that the report will likely lend some credence to a link between wildlife farming and COVID-19, but without full evidence about exactly how the move from animals into humans may need occurred,” he said.

Dedkov said planning of “real-time research” is next, but noted there’s no guarantee future trips will find all the answers.“But one can try,” he added. “Of course, if the source of the origin of the virus is found, it'll help answer many questions and, generally , will dissipate this unnecessary political tension round the virus.”

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