The World Health Organization said on Friday that international experts had held their first meeting, albeit virtually, with their Chinese counterparts to investigate the animal origins of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
WHO has been working for months to send a team of international experts, including epidemiologists and animal health specialists, to China to help probe the animal origin of Covid-19 and how the virus came to be. first transmitted to humans.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a virtual press briefing on Friday that the United Nations agency was continuing “to establish the origins of the virus to prevent future epidemics.”
“Today, a group of international experts had their first virtual meeting with their Chinese counterparts,” he said.
The United Nations health agency sent a preliminary team to Beijing in July to lay the groundwork for the investigation, but it is still unclear when the larger team of scientists may travel to China to begin epidemiological studies to to try to identify the first human cases. and their source of infection.
Scientists believe the killer virus has passed from animals to humans, possibly from a market in Wuhan city selling exotic animals for meat.
It is widely believed that the virus originated in bats, but the intermediate animal host that transmitted it between bats and humans remains unknown.
When asked why the first meeting between the experts was not face-to-face, WHO emergency chief Michael Ryan stressed on Friday that “it was certainly still part of the plan that the teams get together practically first ”.
“Politically intoxicated environment”
“We fully expect the team to deploy on the pitch.”
He clarified that the teams had to first review all the studies already carried out “so that the trip, the mission ends up addressing the problems which are the gaps in knowledge”.
He cautioned, however, that such investigations are extremely complex and can take “a very long time.”
“I turned to MERS and SARS and other diseases, which took months and sometimes years to establish animal origin, and sometimes years for full field investigations to be carried out.” , did he declare.
The WHO has come under heavy criticism for not moving quickly enough with the investigation, especially from the administration of US President Donald Trump, who accused the agency of bowing to China.
Ryan acknowledged that there was a lot of political pressure to act quickly, but stressed the importance of moving forward in the way most likely to get the best answers.
“This is what we need: … the best answers. Not just any answer that satisfies the political needs for speed,” he said.
“We want the best possible scientific results, generating the best possible evidence for the origin of this disease, because it is important.”
Ryan said it was “difficult to do this job in a politically intoxicated environment.”
“We are doing our best to ensure the best science in the face of one of the most devastating epidemics we have ever faced together as a planet.”
International air travel
Since the virus first appeared in China at the end of last year, it has killed nearly 1.2 million people worldwide and infected well over 45 million.
The WHO emergency committee met this week to assess the crisis nine months after declaring it a public health emergency of international concern (USPPI) – the agency’s highest level of international alarm. United Nations.
The committee made new recommendations, including urging the WHO to update its advice on international air travel.
“It is very important that the WHO produces updated guidelines regarding the safety of international air travel and it is clear that the use of tests is now supposed to have a much larger place than quarantine,” the president said. of the Didier Houssin committee during Friday’s briefing, stressing “efforts made by airlines and airports.”