WHO rechecks research into first occurrence of coronavirus in Italy, World News
Samples from a study suggesting the coronavirus was circulating outside of China in October 2019 have been retested at the request of the World Health Organization (WTO), said two scientists who led the Italian research.
There is growing international pressure to learn more about the origins of the pandemic that has killed more than 3 million people worldwide and US President Joe Biden last week ordered his assistants to find answers.
The WHO reacted to Biden’s announcement that intelligence agencies were pursuing rival theories, including the possibility of a laboratory accident in China, saying the research was “poisoned by politics.”
COVID-19 was first identified in the city of Wuhan, in central China, in December 2019, while the first Italian patient was detected on February 21 last year in a small town near from Milan.
However, a study published last year suggested that antibodies to the virus or a variant were detected in Italy in 2019.
This prompted Chinese state media to suggest the virus may not have originated in China, although Italian researchers pointed out that the findings raised questions about when the virus first emerged. rather than its location.
“WHO asked us if we could share the biological material and if we could redo the tests in an independent laboratory. We agreed,” said Giovanni Apolone, scientific director of one of the main institutions, the Institute of Milan cancer (INT), mentioned.
The WHO request has not been reported before.
“WHO is in contact with the researchers who published the original article. Collaboration with partner laboratories has been set up for further testing,” a WHO spokesperson said.
The spokesperson said the WHO knew the researchers planned to release a follow-up report “in the near future.”
He said the UN agency has contacted all researchers who have published or provided information on samples collected in 2019 that allegedly tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, but has yet to interpret. final results.
The results of the Italian researchers, published by the scientific magazine of the INT Tumori Journal, showed neutralizing antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 in blood collected from healthy volunteers in Italy in October 2019 during a screening trial lung cancer.
Most of the volunteers came from Lombardy, the northern region around Milan, which was the first and hardest hit by the virus in Italy.
“None of the studies published so far have ever questioned the geographic origin,” Apolone told Reuters.
“The growing doubt is that the virus, probably less potent compared to the following months, was circulating in China long before the reported cases,” added Apolone.
WHO chose the Erasmus University Rotterdam laboratory for the new test, said Emanuele Montomoli, co-author of the original study and professor of public health in the Department of Molecular Medicine at the University of Siena.
Erasmus University did not respond to requests for comment.
Italian researchers sent the team in Rotterdam 30 biological samples from October to December 2019 that they had found positive, 30 samples from the same period that they had tested negative and 30 samples from as far back as 2018, negative .
“We sent them blind, which means our colleagues didn’t know which samples were positive and which samples were negative,” Apolone said.
“They rechecked our samples with commercial tests, which are much less sensitive than the ones we designed and validated,” Montomoli said.
Despite the differences between the two detection methods, the two Italian scientists said they were satisfied with the results, which were delivered to them at the end of February, adding that they could not comment further until the team of Italian and Dutch scientists would not have published its findings.
“We did not say in our study that we could establish without a doubt that the coronavirus, which was later sequenced in Wuhan, was already circulating in Italy in October,” Montomoli said.
“We only found the answer to the virus, namely the antibodies. So we can say that this coronavirus or a very similar, perhaps a less transmissible variant, was circulating here in October,” he added.