- In China, the WHO team found “important clues” about the source of the Covid-19 virus
- Peter Daszak, a zoologist assisting the WHO experts, said that the team visited main hot spots and will release its results soon, which is a “turning point in pandemic mitigation”
- More than 105.7 million infections and 2.3 million deaths across the globe have been caused by coronavirus
Team of WHO scientists investigating the source of the coronavirus have completed a lengthy investigation in Wuhan, China and have found “important clues” about the role of the Wuhan seafood market in the outbreak.
Peter Daszak, a New York-based zoologist assisting the mission sponsored by the World Health Organization, said he anticipates the key findings will be published before his scheduled departure on Feb. 10.
Daszak said the 14-member group collaborated with experts in China from the central city of Wuhan, where Covid-19 mushroomed in December 2019, and visited key hot spots and research centers to uncover “some real clues about what happened”.
Investigators want to know how the SARS-CoV-2 virus spread explosively in Wuhan before triggering the worst contagion in more than a century—whose nearest known relative came from bats 1,000 miles away. Daszak said the inquiry heralds a pandemic reduction turning point.
“It’s the beginning of hopefully a really deep understanding of what happened so we can stop the next one,” he said late Friday over Zoom. “That’s what this is all about —we are trying to understand why these problems happen so that, we don’t continuously have global economic crashes and horrible mortality, as we wait for vaccines. It’s just not a future that is tenable.”
More than 105.7 million infections and 2.3 million deaths have been caused by Covid-19 worldwide.
In May, the World Health Organization (WHO) was asked to help “identify the zoonotic source of the virus and the human population route of introduction, including the possible role of intermediate hosts.”
The lack of a direct path from bats to humans has stoked speculation that the virus may have escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a maximum bio-containment laboratory that studies bat-borne coronaviruses, refuted by Daszak and many other scientists.
Scientists visited the laboratory and asked Shi Zhengli, who for more than a decade has collected and studied these viruses, about the research and the earliest cases of coronavirus identified.
Daszak said, “We really have to cover the full spectrum of key investigation lines,” He added, ” To be fair to our hosts here in China, for the past few months, they’ve been doing the same thing. They worked behind the scenes, digging up the details, looking at it and making it ready.”
The study was “collaborative,” he said, with Chinese counterparts assisting project investigators dig deeper for clues.
The British scientist said, “We sat down with them every single day and went through information, new data, and then said we want to go to the key places,” “They asked for a list. We suggested where we should go and the individuals we should encounter. On that list, we went to every location and they were really forthcoming with that.”
Daszak is one of the 10 independent professionals assisting the mission of the WHO. The Organisation also has five staff members, and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and the Paris-based World Organization for Animal Health have two staff members each.
Delegates to the mission participated in three groups based on the possible involvement of animals, disease epidemiology or spread, and environmental sampling results. Genetic sequencing data helps researchers identify threads that connect data between patients and wildlife, Daszak said.
“My feeling is we will be able to say something of some value at the end of this trip — quite a lot of value, but I don’t want to get into what that’s going to be or how it leads to,” he said, adding that the groups findings are confidential until they are released publicly.
Daszak, who concentrated on the animal side, said his trip to the fresh produce market of Huanan in central Wuhan was particularly helpful.
The so-called wet market mainly sold seafood, as well as meat that included wildlife that was freshly cooked. When cases emerged among workers and shoppers, it was a priority early in the epidemic, suggesting it may have been where the virus transferred from animals to humans.
Earlier cases among people not connected to the market were identified by subsequent studies, questioning the hypothesis. Investigators searched deeper and, Daszak said, found “important clues” about the position of the market, declining to elaborate.
He said, “Right now, we’re trying to tease everything together. We’ve looked at these three strands separately. We’re going to pull it together now and see what it all means to us.”
While the food market was shuttered and cleaned almost immediately after cases were recognized, it is still quite intact,” Daszak said. “People left in a hurry and they left equipment, they left utensils, they left evidence of what was going on, and that’s what we looked at.”
In China, scientists who took environmental samples inside the market found locations where SARS-CoV-2 traces were detected, he said. Investigators have also benefited from greater knowledge of Covid-19.
“Now we know what we did not know then—that there were others for any sick case that were asymptomatic or difficult to differentiate from a cold or cough,” Daszak said. “And so, it’s not unexpected that there would have been other cases other than ones that got into hospital. But how many others, when did this start? This is the kind of thing that we are still working on.”
Viruses are passed along “convoluted rivers of emergence” and it is difficult to track the path and it will take “a really long time,” said Daszak. “What I have seen already tells me that there are some real clues about what has happened, and I hope that we will be able to make a solid clarification of that by the end of this trip.”