Following a claim that it had abandoned the search, World Health Organization (WHO) chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Wednesday (local time) that the organisation will keep pressing until it gets an answer to how the Covid-19 outbreak began.
“We need to continue to push until we get the answer,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters, referring to the search for the origins of the virus that first began spreading in China in late 2019. Solving the mystery of where the SARS-CoV-2 virus came from and how it began spreading among humans is considered vital for averting future pandemics.
“Knowing how this pandemic started is very, very important and very crucial,” said Ghebreyesus.
Notably, the WHO chief statement comes after an article on the Nature website alleged that the organization is faced with a lack of cooperation from China, where the outbreak began in late 2019, and the WHO had given up on the search.
Ghebreyesus said he had recently sent a letter to a top official in China “asking for cooperation because we need cooperation and transparency in the information… in order to know how this started.”
The two main theories that have been hotly debated have centred on the virus naturally spilling over from bats to an intermediary animal and into humans or The Scientific Advisory Group for the Origins of Novel Pathogens (SAGO) was created “to conduct an independent assessment of the origins of COVID-19, but also to work more broadly to establish a framework to understand the origins of any future epidemic and pandemic pathogen, and the origins in which it emerges,” said Van Kerkhove, Infectious Disease Epidemiologist; COVID-19 Technical Lead, Emerging Diseases and Zoonoses Lead, WHO Health Emergencies Programme.
“We will continue to ask for countries to depoliticize this work, but we need cooperation from our colleagues in China to advance this,” she said.
Tedros said there were two reasons for not abandoning the origins search.
The first was scientific, he said: “We need to know how this started in order to prevent the next one.”
“The second (is) moral: millions of people lost their lives, and many suffered, and the whole world was taken hostage by a virus. “It’s morally very important to know how we lost our loved ones,” added WHO chief.
The WHO conducted the first phase of the study by dispatching a team of international experts to Wuhan, China, in January 2021 to write a first-phase report in collaboration with their Chinese colleagues.
While the initial plan was to send a second team, Van Kerkhove stated that the WHO had changed tactics and opted to form a team of scientists with a broader scope to examine new viruses and study ways to prevent future pandemics, while continuing to investigate the origins of COVID-19.