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WHO’s new taskforce “last chance” to track COVID origins

Published on 14/10/21 at 10:00am

The WHO has put together a new taskforce, the Scientific Advisory Group on the Origins of Novel Pathogens (Sago), with the aim of discovering the origin of the coronavirus pandemic.

Michael Ryan, the WHO's Emergencies Director, said Sago's work may be the "last chance to understand the origins of this virus".

Over a year and a half since the pandemic began, the WHO has now nominated 26 experts to join the body, and the team will examine the possible theories as to where and why the outbreak began.

One such theory is that the virus jumped from animals to humans in Wuhan markets or leaked in a lab accident – Chinese officials have strongly refuted this second theory.

In February, a WHO team flew to China and concluded that the virus had probably come from bats but that more work was needed, calling the lab leak theory "extremely unlikely".

But the WHO's director general, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, later said the investigation had been hampered by a lack of data and transparency from China.

The proposed members of the Sago group include six experts who visited China as part of the previous team.

Aside from coronavirus, Sago will also look into the origins of other high-risk pathogens.

Dr Tedros said: "Understanding where new pathogens come from is essential for preventing future outbreaks. A lab accident cannot be ruled out.”

The announcement of the new group comes as CNN reported that China was preparing to test tens of thousands of blood bank samples taken in the early months of the pandemic.

But Chen Xu, China's Ambassador to the UN in Geneva, said Sago's work should not be "politicised". He said: "It is time to send teams to other places”.

Kat Jenkins

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