“We have been investigating the possibility of the virus escaping from the lab. We conclude this is extremely unlikely.”
Dr. Dominic Dwyer is the Australian representative in the WHO expert group to China to investigate the origin of Covid-19.
The February 22 magazine The Conversation published his article on what the expert group had found in Wuhan:
|Dr. Dominic Dwyer arrives at the Wuhan Virus Institute in Hubei Province with the WHO team dedicated to investigating the origin of Covid-19. Photo: Reuters|
“As I write this, I am quarantined in a hotel in Sydney after returning from Wuhan. In Chinese city, I am the Australian representative to participate in the World Health Organization (WHO) investigation. about the origin of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
There is a lot of talk about politics surrounding its mission to investigate the origin of the virus causing Covid-19. So it’s easy to forget that behind these investigations are real people.
During our investigation, we met the man who, on December 8, 2019, was the first recorded Covid-19 infection. He recovered. We met the husband of a doctor who had died of Covid-19, leaving a young child behind. We also met with many doctors working at Wuhan hospitals who treated the first Covid-19 infected people, and learned what happened to them and to their colleagues.
We have seen the impact of Covid-19 on many affected individuals and communities at an early stage, a time when we do not know much about the virus, how it spreads and its treatment.
We talked with Chinese associates – scientists, epidemiologists, doctors – for the four weeks that the WHO mission was in China. We meet with them for 15 hours a day, so we became colleagues, even friends. This helps us build mutual respect and trust in a way you wouldn’t otherwise be able to via Zoom or email.
Derived from animals, but not necessarily in the Wuhan markets
In Wuhan, China, a virus called SARS-CoV-2 appeared in December 2019, leading to the most infectious pandemic since the 1918-19 pandemic.
Our investigations conclude, the virus is most likely of animal origin. The likelihood that it had been transmitted to humans from bats, through some intermediate animal, at an unknown location. Such “zoonotic” diseases have caused pandemics in the past. But we are still working to confirm the exact sequence of events leading up to the current pandemic.
To date, samples taken from bats in Hubei province and wildlife across China have not shown SARS-CoV-2.
|After the outbreak of Covid-19, China imposed many new rules on the trade and consumption of wildlife. Photo: AAP|
We visited a wet market in Wuhan that is now closed. This is the point at the beginning of the pandemic that is believed to be the source of the viral outbreak. Some of the stalls in this market sell products from “domesticated” wildlife. They are raised for meat, such as weasels, civets and skunk.
There is also evidence that some domesticated wild animals can be susceptible to SARS-CoV-2. However, no animal products sampled after the market closed found positive for SARS-CoV-2.
We also know that not all of the early 174 Covid-19s have ever been to this market. Including one person was diagnosed with the virus in December 2019.
But when we visited the closed market, it was easy to see how infectious there was. When it was still open, the market had about 10,000 people visiting each day, crowded together while the ventilation and drainage systems were poor.
There is also evidence of the gene produced during the investigation of an outbreak there. The viral genome sequencing from a number of market cases was identical, indicating that it was a case cluster.
However, there is diversity in other viral strains, suggesting that there are other transmission chains that have not been sampled or known.
The most recent summary of the most recent common “ancestor” time-to-time model studies of the SARS-CoV-2 chain estimates the start of the pandemic between mid-November and early December. See, SARS-CoV-2 was spreading in many countries earlier than the first case in Wuhan, but claims have not been confirmed. So we need to find the source of the virus elsewhere as well.
Frozen food is not excluded during infection
There is a “cold chain” theory. The idea is that the virus can originate elsewhere through growing, catching, processing, transporting, freezing, or freezing food.
Is it ice cream, fish, wildlife meat? We do not know. It cannot be proven that this originated the virus itself.
But to what extent has it contributed to the spread? Again, we don’t know.
Some “cold chain” products available in the Wuhan market are not tested for viruses. Environmental samples from the market showed that the surface was contaminated with the virus. This may indicate entry of SARS-CoV-2 through an infected person, or infected animal products and “cold chain” products. Investigation of “cold chain” products and the existence of viruses at low temperatures are still underway.
|Dr. Dominic Dwyer. Photo: ABC News|
It is very difficult for viruses to escape from the laboratory
The most politically sensitive option we have looked at is the possibility of the virus escaping the lab. We conclude this is extremely unlikely.
We visited the Wuhan Virus Institute, an impressive research facility that looks to be in good working order.
We chatted with scientists there. We hear that scientists’ blood samples, taken and stored regularly, have been tested for signs of infection. No evidence of antibodies to the corona virus was found. We reviewed their biosafety audits. There was also no evidence.
We looked at the virus closest to SARS-CoV-2 they were studying – the RaTG13 virus – discovered in caves in southern China, where some miners died 7 years ago. But all scientists have is a genetic sequence of the virus. They have not cultured it yet.
Although there have been cases where the virus has escaped from the laboratories, this is very unlikely.
So we conclude that this is extremely unlikely in Wuhan.
An investigation team
When I say “we”, the task is a joint between WHO experts and the China Health Committee. A total of 17 Chinese experts and 10 international experts, along with 7 other experts and support staff from different agencies.
We looked at clinical epidemiology (how Covid-19 spreads between humans), molecular epidemiology (the genetic makeup of the virus and its spread), and the roles of animals and lips. school.
The clinical epidemiological team alone looked at a Chinese profile of 76,000 segments from more than 200 agencies for anything that might resemble Covid-19 – such as flu-like illness, pneumonia and diseases. other respiration.
They found no clear evidence of a significant transmission of Covid-19 in Wuhan in the second half of 2019 before the first case was noted.
Our mission to China is only phase one. We will publish our official report in the coming weeks.
Investigators will also look for more data, to investigate evidence of the virus having spread in Europe, for example, in early 2019.
Investigators will continue to check wildlife and other animals in the area for signs of the virus. And we will constantly learn from our own experience to improve the way we investigate the next pandemic.
Regardless of the origin of the virus, those infected are at the beginning of epidemiological, sequential and quantitative data.
The long-term physical and psychological effects of the Covid-19 pandemic – tragedy and fear – will be felt in Wuhan and elsewhere in the coming decades.
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