This month, China is expected to begin analyzing tens of thousands of samples from blood banks in Wuhan, the city where the first infections by the new coronavirus were recorded in the second half of 2019, months before the World Health Organization (WHO) decrees the pandemic of Covid-19. The goal is to try to find out when and how Sars-CoV-2 was first transmitted to humans.
According to information from CNN, samples from blood banks in Wuhan are retained for two years, in case they are needed as evidence in any lawsuit related to the blood donations from which they originate. In February of this year, a panel of WHO investigators identified that storing up to 200,000 samples in the city, including those from the last few months of 2019, could be an important source of information for identifying the origin of the pandemic.
The hope is that, if the samples were stored correctly, some could contain the first human-produced antibodies against Covid-19, which would give clues to how and where the first contaminations occurred.
October is a key month because the two-year waiting period since October 2019 has now expired, and many experts believe the virus may have been first transmitted to a human being in the tenth month of the year before last or in November 2019 in Wuhan – although the first officially reported case was on December 8, research indicates that the first contamination probably occurred earlier.
International experts are pressing for China to allow researchers from other countries to follow the entire process of analyzing the samples, in the name of transparency that the world’s second-largest economy has long demanded in debates over the origin of the new coronavirus.
Yanzhong Huang, senior global health researcher at the Council on Foreign Relations, a New York-based think tank, told CNN that it is unclear “to what extent the outside world would trust the findings as credible or convincing” if China does not allow participation of international researchers, and that the tests represent an opportunity for the country “to tell the world that it is serious about depoliticizing the investigation of the origins” of the virus.
A report commissioned by US President Joe Biden and presented in August failed to pinpoint whether the new coronavirus was transmitted from animals to humans or escaped from a laboratory in China. The Chinese dictatorship, for its part, has insisted on a theory that the virus was leaked from a US Army laboratory in the state of Maryland, which the rest of the world does not take seriously.
WHO appoints experts to investigate Sars-CoV-2 origins
This Wednesday (13), the WHO announced the composition of the Scientific Advisory Group on the Origin of New Pathogens (Sago, its acronym in English), for which 26 experts were selected from more than 700 candidates to investigate the origin of Sars-CoV-2 and identify possible future dangerous pathogens.
The Director General of WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, stated that the members of the group, composed of researchers from Brazil, the United States, Cuba, the United Kingdom, Russia, France, Germany, China, Japan and other countries, “were chosen for their international expertise and experience in a variety of disciplines, as well as its geographic and gender diversity”.
Michael Ryan, executive director of the WHO Health Emergencies Program, pointed out that this could be the world’s “last chance” to discover the origins of Sars-CoV-2. “This is an effort to understand a virus that has stopped our entire world. And I would ask everyone, countries, journalists and everyone else, to reserve a space for this discussion to take place. Right now, this is our best chance and it may be our last chance to understand the origins of this virus in a collegial, collective and mutually responsible way”, he justified.