Underlining the shortcomings of the WHO mission in Wuhan, 30 experts and scientists call for an independent investigation into the origins of Covid-19
“Clarifying the origins of SARS-CoV-2 is critical to better address the current epidemic and reduce the risk of future pandemics. Unfortunately, more than a year after the first cases appeared, the origins of the pandemic are still unknown. " Less than a month after the completion of the joint mission of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Chinese authorities to investigate the transfer of the novel coronavirus to humans, a group of about 30 leading figures are calling for a full and independent investigation into sources of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Published Thursday, March 4 in the United States by the Wall Street Journal and in France by Le Monde , the appeal was signed by Jamie Metzl, a member of the White House National Security Council under the Clinton administration and former collaborator of Joe Biden, as well as by virologists Bruno Canard and Etienne Decroly, CNRS researchers, by geneticists Jean-Michel Claverie (University of Aix-Marseille) and Virginie Courtier (Institut Jacques-Monod, CNRS).
The open letter first outlines the structural limits of the exercise carried out by the WHO / China joint mission. It then proposes a list of conditions necessary to conduct a scientific investigation that could answer the questions raised by the emergence of the disease. The initiative appears to be a reaction to the WHO / China team's initial conclusions, presented on February 9 in Wuhan during a nearly three-hour press conference.
ALL POSSIBLE SCENARIOS MUST BE EXAMINED
These initial findings have raised many questions in the international community. In particular, the mission had asked for more research on the possible circulation of the new coronavirus through the frozen food trade, thus helping to corroborate a claim by the Chinese authorities that the virus may have been introduced into China via this route. The mission had also considered the possibility of a laboratory accident unlikely enough to make further scientific investigations into it unnecessary.
A statement that had aroused the skepticism of the American administration and a contrary position of the WHO director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. "Some people have questioned that some hypotheses [about the origin of the pandemic] have been dropped, and after speaking with team members, I want to confirm that all the hypotheses remain on the table," he said three days after the press conference. of Wuhan.
Similarly, in its open letter, the collective recalls that all possible scenarios need to be examined: "zoological event with or without an intermediate animal", "infection at a sampling site of a laboratory employee or staff member accompanying "," infection during the transport of animals and / or collected samples "," infection acquired in the laboratory in the city of Wuhan "," escape from the laboratory without infection acquired in its enclosure ", through, in particular, the evacuation waste or animal escape.
For the collective, the joint mission had neither the mandate, nor the full range of skills required, nor the independence, nor access to the data needed to conduct a true investigation. "We want to draw attention", the signatories write, "to the fact that half of the joint team (…) is made up of Chinese citizens whose scientific independence may be limited, that the members of the commission relied on information that the Chinese authorities have chosen to provide them, and that any joint team report must be approved by both Chinese and international members. "
The agreement between China and the WHO defining the prerogatives and framework of the joint mission is strongly criticized. For example, they explain, "most of the field work has to be done by the Chinese side, with the results simply shared with the international members of the joint team for review and discussion." The collective also noted that the selection of mission members did not avoid conflicts of interest (for example, one of the members of the international side of the team funded work on bat coronaviruses at the Wuhan Institute of Virology).
In addition, the mission members did not have access to much data relating to the research laboratories they visited. "International members of the joint team, by their own admission, have often relied on the word of their Chinese counterparts rather than on an independent investigation, particularly regarding the possibility of a laboratory or [scientific] research accident." , the signatories write. The joint mission, they add, also operated under a confidentiality order issued by the Chinese authorities, "put in place a week after the WHO joint mission left China in February 2020" and which "prevented any spontaneous sharing of information on the pandemic ”.
We recognize that as an international agency dependent on the collaboration of its member states, the World Health Organization is limited in what it can achieve in this type of investigation, ”the open letter says. It is not our intention to weaken the WHO, which is working under difficult circumstances at a time of immense global need. "
The collective therefore urges the international community to create a new structure and a new process that can overcome the structural defects of the common mission. Such an investigation, the petitioners argue, should be conducted by an independent and multidisciplinary team, including people familiar with the Chinese language and culture, with access to "all sites, registers, samples and personnel of interest" (registers of market and laboratory staff in Wuhan, hospital records of early or suspect patients, sites for collecting viral samples from wildlife, blood banks, samples taken from markets, farms or the environment, genetic sequences of pathogens studied in research laboratories , records of experiments carried out, etc.). The authors also consider it important to be able to conduct confidential interviews with early suspect patients and their families.
For the moment, no one knows precisely the final conclusions of the mission as formulated in its final report, which will have to be accepted by the Chinese authorities. At the end of the press conference, WHO announced that a summary of the mission report will be released "in the coming days" and the full investigation report in the following weeks. WHO has now explained that the summary report may never see the light of day, as some mission members preferred to stick to the publication of the full report. No date has yet been set for its publication.
This is a machine translation from Italian language of a post published on Start Magazine at the URL https://www.startmag.it/mondo/missione-oms-wuhan-critiche/ on Sun, 07 Mar 2021 07:06:44 +0000.