The World Health Organization today unveiled a team of scientists tasked with studying new pathogens and preventing future pandemics, a major project in the shadow of the delayed investigation into the origin of Covid-19.
In recent years, many pathogens have emerged or reappeared, such as the MERS-CoV coronavirus, avian influenza, Lhasa virus, Ebola virus and, most recently, SARS-CoV-2, which causes the Covid-19 pandemic. .
“The emergence of new viruses capable of causing epidemics and pandemics is an indisputable fact of nature and, if SARS-CoV-2 is the most recent of these viruses, it certainly will not be the last,” said the WHO Director-General. Tentos Antanom Gebregesous, in the press conference he gave.
As the pandemic proved that the world was not ready for such an eventuality, the WHO announced in the summer the formation of a “Scientific Advisory Group on the Origin of New Pathogens”, called SAGO. Of the 700 scientists who applied for membership, the WHO selected 26. Among them are the German virologist Christian Drosten, Dr. Inger Damon of the American CDC, Jean-Claude Manugera, a virologist at the Yastung Pasteur Institute in France , the deputy director of the Beijing Institute of Genomics.
Their mission is to investigate possible new pathogens but also to re-examine the origin of SARS-CoV-2.
“This advisory group will propose to the WHO possible measures that need to be taken urgently, then the WHO will work with all member countries, including China, to conclude what needs to be done (…) There is no time to lose “Said Maria Van Kerkov, who is in charge of managing the pandemic.
On August 13, China rejected the WHO’s call for a new on-site investigation, deeming the first one sufficient.
But Van Kerkov said she expects SAGO to recommend new studies in China and possibly elsewhere soon, and called on all countries to work together.
“This is probably our last chance to understand the origin of this virus,” said Michael Ryan, director of the WHO Emergency Management Agency.
From Geneva, Chinese Ambassador Chen Xu earlier told UN-accredited journalists that it was not up to politicians to decide where the experts should go. “Once this group is set up, ‘we will do our best to support the WHO and work with them on the scientific study of the origin,'” said Feng Yong, a Chinese public health diplomat.
Some of the experts selected for SAGO have already participated in the scientific mission that studied the origin of Covid-19 in China, such as the Dutch Marion Kupmans and the Vietnamese Hung Nguyen. Experts in their report, published on March 29, cited four scenarios, more or less likely. According to them, the new coronavirus is most likely transmitted to humans by an animal that in turn became infected with bats. The possibility that it came from an accident in a science laboratory was considered “extremely unlikely”, a fact that provoked many reactions. The WHO Director-General then stated that the accident at the laboratory could not be ruled out, as long as there was insufficient evidence.