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Monday, January 18, 2021

Qatar scientist to join mission to trace ‘COVID-19 origin’

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Health experts are embarking on a China mission to identify the origins of the novel coronavirus that has brought much of the world to a standstill.

Qatar-based Acting Head of Communicable Diseases Control Programs, Dr. Elmoubasher Farag, has been selected to join a group of ten international health experts in a mission to China mission designed to trace the origin of COVID-19, South China Morning Post reported.

Source: Hamad Medical Corporation

The ten international “virus hunters” will be working under the World Health Organization (WHO) along with Beijing scientists on the ground in China.

Dr. Farag will work along with public health experts and animal health specialists from Japan, Germany, Vietnam, Russia, Australia, Denmark, the Netherlands, Britain, and the United States.

The team includes Dutch researcher Marion Koopmans, who is also the head of the Erasmus Medical Centre’s Department of Viroscience. He has been involved in research on the recent outbreak of the coronavirus among farmed minks in the Netherlands.

The names of the doctors selected by the WHO on Monday were released despite concerns surrounding potential harassment considering the sensitivity of the subject.

“There has been a level of attack and abuse to people involved in international science. It is not an easy space to be in right now and let me be plain about that,” said Michael Ryan, executive director of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme.

Read also: Qatar’s Sidra hospital joins international efforts to develop COVID-19 vaccine

WHO’s health expert added that there is an “anti-science movement” and “ideology politics”, which has contributed to some of their concerns regarding releasing the names.

“We would like to thank them for their openness and transparency and for allowing us to release their names. That’s not an easy choice,” said Ryan.

Despite the finalised selection of the scientists, there is still no specific date of the beginning of their field studies in China.

“We have reassurances from our Chinese government colleagues that … a field part of the mission will be facilitated as soon as possible, in order that the international community can be reassured of the quality of the science,” said Ryan.

The mission’s initial preliminary stage was done in July, but there were no updates until the recent announcement.

Furthermore, the US and the European Union have called for more transparency around the mission.

Virus origins

Despite claims regarding the origin of the virus from a wet market in Wuhan, there still seems to be a lack of “analytical epidemiological study”, according to the WHO.

Considering the lack of knowledge on the origin of the virus due to its complexity, the mission will be identifying several cases preceding the ones announced in December.

The team of ten will also be studying the animals sold in the wet market as well as their supply chains.

According to researchers and the WHO, the origins of the virus must be thoroughly studied and understood to prevent it from re-emerging.


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