The World Health Organization (WHO) has urged all countries to put differences aside in order to speed up efforts to understand where and how the COVID-19 virus started, including the unproven suggestion that it was manufactured in a laboratory.
The move, announced late on Thursday, comes after a joint report was issued in March by WHO and China into the origins of the coronavirus.
UN said it needs access to all data to prevent global health threats in the future, noting that there was no scientific evidence to rule any of the hypotheses on where the virus originated.
“WHO calls for all governments to depoliticize the situation and cooperate to accelerate the origins of studies, and importantly to work together to develop a common framework for future emerging pathogens of pandemic potential,” it said.
“We call on all governments to put differences aside and work together to provide all data and access required so that the next series of studies can be commenced as soon as possible.”
In a detailed statement, WHO explained that it had decided on a new series of scientific studies “that need to be undertaken” into “all hypotheses” about how the previously unknown pathogen crossed from animals to humans.
Interests of transparency
A new independent advisory group of experts called the International Scientific Advisory Group for Origins of Novel Pathogens (SAGO) will support the sensitive project by coordinating the studies recommended in the March report, it said.
In the interests of transparency, WHO said that it welcomed nominations for the panel from all countries, adding that the experts’ work would resemble previous COVID-19 missions to China and those launched to hunt for the origins of avian influenza, Lassa virus and Ebola virus.
“This open call aims to ensure that a broad range of scientific skills and expertise are identified to advise WHO on the studies needed to identify the origins of any future emerging or re-emerging pathogen of pandemic potential,” the UN agency said.
UN said it is proving difficult for scientists to find the origins of any novel pathogen and advised governments to droping blame games, finger-pointing or political point-scoring on the origin of the pandemic.
“It is vitally important to know how the COVID-19 pandemic began, to set an example for establishing the origins of all future animal-human spill-over events.”
Data from “a number of countries” that reported finding the virus in blood samples taken in 2019 has already been shared with WHO. This included Italy, where WHO coordinated retesting of pre-pandemic blood samples outside the country.