WHO-convened Global Study of Origins of SARS-CoV-2:
Joint WHO-China Study
14 January-10 February 2021
Terms of reference of the Global Study of the Origins of SARS-COV2
Members of the international team:
Prof. Dr. Thea Fisher, MD, DMSc(PhD) (Nordsjællands Hospital, Denmark)
Prof. John Watson (Public Health England, United Kingdom)
Prof. Dr. Marion Koopmans, DVM PhD (Erasmus MC, Netherlands)
Prof. Dr. Dominic Dwyer, MD (Westmead Hospital, Australia)
Vladimir Dedkov, Ph.D (Institute Pasteur, Russia)
Dr. Hung Nguyen-Viet, PhD (International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), Vietnam)
PD. Dr. med vet. Fabian Leendertz (Robert Koch-Institute, Germany)
Dr. Peter Daszak, Ph.D (EcoHealth Alliance, USA)
Dr. Farag El Moubasher, Ph.D (Ministry of Public Health, Qatar)
Prof. Dr. Ken Maeda, PhD, DVM (National Institute of Infectious Diseases, Japan)
The international team also includes five WHO experts led by Dr Peter Ben Embarek; two Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) representatives and two World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) representatives.
REPORT- 30 March 2021
Arguments in favour
Although rare, laboratory accidents do happen, and different laboratories around the world are working with bat CoVs. When working in particular with virus cultures, but also with animal inoculations or clinical samples, humans could become infected in laboratories with limited biosafety, poor laboratory management practice, or following negligence. The closest known CoV RaTG13 strain (96.2%) to SARS-CoV-2 detected in bat anal swabs have been sequenced at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. The Wuhan CDC laboratory moved on 2nd December 2019 to a new location near the Huanan market. Such moves can be disruptive for the operations of any laboratory.
The closest relatives of SARS-CoV-2 from bats and pangolin are evolutionarily distant from SARSCoV-2. There has been speculation regarding the presence of human ACE2 receptor binding and a furin-cleavage site in SARS-CoV-2, but both have been found in animal viruses as well, and elements of the furin-cleavage site are present in RmYN02 and the new Thailand bat SARSr-CoV. There is no record of viruses closely related to SARS-CoV-2 in any laboratory before December 2019, or genomes that in combination could provide a SARS-CoV-2 genome. Regarding accidental culture, prior to December 2019, there is no evidence of circulation of SARS-CoV-2 among people globally and the surveillance programme in place was limited regarding the number of samples processed and therefore the risk of accidental culturing SARS-CoV-2 in the laboratory is extremely low. The three laboratories in Wuhan working with either CoVs diagnostics and/or CoVs isolation and vaccine development all had high quality biosafety level (BSL3 or 4) facilities that were well-managed, with a staff health monitoring programme with no reporting of COVID-19 compatible respiratory illness during the weeks/months prior to December 2019, and no serological evidence of infection in workers through SARS-CoV-2-specific serology-screening. The Wuhan CDC lab which moved on 2nd December 2019 reported no disruptions or incidents caused by the move. They also reported no storage nor laboratory activities on CoVs or other bat viruses preceding the outbreak.
Assessment of likelihood
In view of the above, a laboratory origin of the pandemic was considered to be extremely unlikely
The international team recognized the impact of the epidemic on Wuhan, from affected individuals and communities to government officials, scientists and health workers. The team commended the engagement of all the professionals who had spent long hours analysing very large quantities of data to support its work. In conclusion, the team called for a continued scientific and collaborative approach to be taken towards tracing the origins of COVID-19.
SARS-CoV-2 Spread through the cold/food chain.
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