Coronavirus

A WHO Team Is Going to China to Investigate the Origins of COVID-19. Scientists Are Already Warning of a New Virus Threat.

The global health body noted that the current "pandemic is far from over", even as new research identified a novel flu that "has all the essential hallmarks of a candidate pandemic virus".
01 July 2020, 12:30pm
wuhan market afp
Workers wearing protective suits walk next to Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan, in China's central Hubei province, in March. Hector RETAMAL / AFP

This article originally appeared on VICE ASIA.

With the world more than six months into the worst pandemic in a century, the WHO announced this week that it will be sending a team to China to more thoroughly investigate the origins of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

WHO Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyeus made the announcement in a virtual conference on Monday. This will be the WHO’s second team to visit China, after a WHO-China joint mission in February.

“We can fight the virus better when we know everything about the virus, including how it started,” Tedros said.

“Six months ago, none of us could have imagined how our world and our lives would be thrown into turmoil by this new virus. We all want this to be over. We all want to get on with our lives. But the hard reality is this is not even close to being over.”

The origins of the outbreak are currently believed to be in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, where China first notified the WHO of an outbreak of a mysterious pneumonia linked to a local wet market.

However, China has drawn fierce criticism for first attempting to sweep the outbreak under the rug, and state media outlets have since peddled a narrative that the virus’ origins might lie outside of China.

Other countries, meanwhile, have been quick to blame China for letting the virus get a toehold before notifying the WHO, with the diplomatic blame game—exacerbated by conspiracy theories and ugly rhetoric promulgated by the likes of U.S. President Donald Trump—morphing into a spate of racist incidents towards East Asians in the West.

Alluding to the divisions, Tedros noted that without international unity, “the worst is yet to come. I am sorry to say that.”

Tedros also called on governments to be “serious” about measures aimed at “flattening the curve” of new infections, such as contract tracing, adding that the COVID-19 pandemic “is far from over.”

But even as the world grapples with its worst public health crisis in decades, new threats are already appearing on the horizon, with China the apparent ground zero again.

According to a research paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a new flu strain endemic to pigs with the potential to start a human pandemic of its own has recently emerged in China. The new strain is reportedly similar to the swine flu which had spread in 2009.

The recently emerged disease has already proven capable of jumping to human hosts, researchers found, and has the potential to mutate further in order to spread more easily.

While there is a vaccine for the last swine flu virus—known as A/H1N1pdm09—the new strain is sufficiently different to require a new vaccine.

The new virus—formally referred to as G4 EA H1N1—can apparently grow and multiply in the cells that line the human airways, and researchers found proof of recent human infections among abattoirs workers in China.

“The G4 virus has all the essential hallmarks of a candidate pandemic virus” the study said.

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