The World Health Organisation (WHO) has insisted that it would do everything possible to find the animal origins of Covid-19, insisting that knowledge was vital to preventing future outbreaks.
The Covid-19 respiratory disease is caused by the coronavirus.
“We want to know the origin and we will do everything to know the origin,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters.
He insisted that the UN health agency is intent on getting to the bottom of the mystery, and urged critics who have accused it of handing the reins of the probe to China to stop “politicising” the issue.
“The WHO’s position is very, very clear. We need to know the origin of this virus, because it can help us prevent future outbreaks,” Tedros said.
The United States, which with more than 262,000 deaths is the country hardest hit by the pandemic, has been harshly critical of the WHO’s handling of the crisis, and has accused it of kowtowing to China and of dragging its feet on investigating how the outbreak first started.
Other critics have also voiced concern that the agency may have allowed China to dictate the terms of an international investigation into the origins of the virus, which first surfaced in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year.
Since then, more than 1.46mn people have died and 63mn have been infected worldwide.
The WHO has for months been working to send a team of international experts, including epidemiologists and animal health specialists, to China to help probe the animal origin of the novel coronavirus pandemic and how the virus first crossed over to humans.
The organisation sent an advance team to Beijing in July to lay the groundwork for the international probe.
But it has remained unclear when the larger team of scientists would be able to travel to China to begin epidemiological studies to try to identify the first human cases and their source of infection.
Last week, the WHO’s emergencies chief Michael Ryan said the agency was hoping to send the international team to Wuhan “as soon as possible”.
Tedros meanwhile rejected criticism over lacking transparency on the probe, stressing that the names of the experts on the team and the terms of reference had been made public.
“There is nothing to hide. We want to know the origin. I don’t want to have any confusion on that.”
Scientists initially believed the killer virus jumped from animals to humans at a market selling exotic animals for meat in the city of Wuhan, where the virus was first detected late last year.
However, experts now think the market may not have been the origin of the outbreak, but rather a place where it was amplified.
It is widely assumed that the virus originally came from bats, but the intermediate animal host that transmitted it between bats and humans remains unknown.
Chinese state media have said the virus existed abroad before it was discovered in Wuhan, citing the presence of coronavirus on imported frozen food packaging and scientific papers saying that it had been circulating in Europe last year.
After new cases and deaths hit records highs in recent weeks, Turkey will impose curfews on weekdays and full lockdowns over weekends to combat the spread of the coronavirus, President Tayyip Erdogan said yesterday.
Citizens will not be allowed to leave home between 9pm-5am on weekdays, and over the whole weekend from 9pm on Fridays to 5am on Mondays, Erdogan said.
Some sectors, including supply chain and production, will be exempt from the measures which will begin on Tuesday, he added.
The UK’s health minister, Matt Hancock, has meanwhile said that Britain has the pandemic back under control, as England prepares to exit a national lockdown this week and enter a tiered system of restrictions subject to a parliamentary vote.
“We’ve got this virus back under control,” Hancock said at a news conference.
The UK reported 12,330 new cases of Covid-19 yesterday, up from 12,155 a day earlier, and taking the cumulative total since the start of the pandemic to 1,629,657 cases, government data showed.
A total of 205 new deaths from the disease were also reported, down from 215 the previous day.
The UK has the highest total death toll in Europe at 58,448.
Chancellor Angela Merkel said yesterday that Germany could face a third wave of coronavirus infections if citizens are careless in the coming weeks.
Germany’s number of new infections has stabilised at a high level since a partial lockdown was imposed on November 2 to contain a second wave of coronavirus infections.
But officials have said that progress was still fragile.
“We’ll have to be very, very careful during the winter,” Merkel said in a virtual panel discussion with police officers. “Otherwise we’ll end up directly in the next wave.”
Italy reported 672 coronavirus-related deaths yesterday, against 541 on Sunday, and 16,377 new infections, down from 20,648 the day before, the health ministry said, with the fall in cases reflecting the usual drop in the number of swabs conducted on Sundays.
The first Western country hit by the virus, Italy has seen 55,576 Covid-19 fatalities since its outbreak emerged in February, the second highest toll in Europe after Britain’s.
It has also registered 1.6mn cases to date.
Pope Francis has meanwhile cancelled a ceremony that traditionally begins Rome’s Christmas season on December 8 at the Spanish Steps because of coronavirus restrictions, the Vatican said yesterday.
The Pope customarily places a wreath of flowers at the base of a 12m column bearing a statue of the Madonna and blesses from a distance another wreath already placed around the statue’s arm by firefighters using a ladder.
The Vatican said Francis would skip the ceremony, which popes have been carrying out on the feast of the Immaculate Conception since 1953, “in order to avoid any risk of contagion caused by gatherings of people”.
Russia has delivered the first known batch of Sputnik V vaccines for civilian use to a hospital just south of Moscow, which said yesterday that it began vaccinating the local population last week.
Russia, which is rushing to keep up with Western drugmakers in the race for a coronavirus shot, has said interim trial results show its Sputnik V vaccine to be 92% effective at protecting people from Covid-19.
Domodedovo’s Central City Hospital said on its website that residents wanting for inoculation had to register on a government website in advance and bring along a negative Covid-19 test result and ID documents on the day.
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