The World Health Organization (WHO) is set to relaunch investigations into the origins of the Covid-19, with a fresh probe team, the media reported.
A new team consists of about 20 scientists, and includes specialists in laboratory safety and biosecurity and geneticists and animal-disease experts versed in how viruses spill over from nature. They will hunt for new evidence in China and elsewhere, the Wall Street Journal reported.
A joint WHO-China inquiry, whose findings were released in March this year, had dismissed the possibility that the virus had emerged accidentally from a laboratory as “extremely unlikely”.
Undermining its own report, Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in July, proposed a second phase of studies in Wuhan, which includes audits of laboratories and markets in the city of Wuhan.
As per Ghebreyesus, getting access to raw data had been a challenge for the international team that travelled to China to investigate the source of the pandemic.
According to scientists at the global health body, time is running out to determine how the pandemic began, as evidenced such as blood samples are being thrown away and antibodies in the earliest Covid-19 victims are fading to undetectable levels.
China has, however, rejected the probe accusing the WHO of “arrogance” and a “disrespect for common sense”.
Chinese scientists have also asked the WHO to extend the hunt for origins of Covid-19 to labs in other countries including the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) at Fort Detrick, Maryland.
As a result, the new team who will be chosen by the end of this week, are likely to face stiff resistance from China. The original WHO team has been disbanded, the WSJ report said.
The Chinese government has declined to clear whether it would allow a new team into the country.
The Foreign Ministry, in a statement, said that China has “cooperated fully” with the previous inquiry, the report added.
“China will continue to support and engage in global science-based origins tracing and stands firmly opposed to political maneuvering in whatever form,” Chinese President Xi Jinping told the UN General Assembly last week.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry had stated that the country will closely monitor the WHO’s selection of a new team, and that Beijing has also put forth a number of individuals to be part of it, the report said.
It is not yet clear if the new team will be able to fly experts into China or make significant progress in resolving the origins debate so long as that deadlock remains.
The new team’s “priority needs to be data and access in the country where the first reports were identified”, a WHO spokesman was quoted as saying.