calendar Wednesday, 20 January 2021 clock
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DOHA: A public health expert from Qatar has been nominated by the World Health Organization (WHO) to an international team of scientists that will trace the origins of the new coronavirus, Hong Kong-based newspaper South China Morning Post has reported.

Qatar is one of 10 countries to be represented in the international team.

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The 10-person team includes public health experts, animal health specialists and virus hunters from Qatar, Japan, Germany, Vietnam, Russia, Australia, Denmark, the Netherlands, Britain and the United States, the report says.

Acting Head of Communicable Diseases Control Programmes in Qatar, Dr Farag El Moubasher, will join the team.

The mission to find the origins of Covid-19 is gathering steam some 11 months after the virus was identified. The international team will work alongside Chinese scientists on a set of investigations into how the virus that causes Covid-19 emerged and spilled over into humans, triggering a pandemic that has now claimed over 1.4 million lives.

Harassment concerns

WHO on Monday said the names of the international team members had been shared with member states and released online, despite concerns about harassment given that the virus origins have become a highly contentious subject, the report added.

“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, WHO Health Emergencies Programme.

He pointed to hate mail and threats within a climate of “anti-science movements” and “ideological politics”.

“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,” he said at a news briefing.

The team includes Dutch researcher Marion Koopmans, head of the Erasmus Medical Centre’s Department of Viroscience, who has been involved in research around Sars-CoV-2 outbreaks among farmed minks in the Netherlands.

Epidemiologists and public health experts on the team include John Watson, a former deputy chief medical officer for Britain’s Department of Health, Danish virologist Thea Fischer of Nordsjællands Hospital. Microbiologist Dominic Dwyer of Westmead Hospital in Australia and epidemiologist Vladimir Dedkov of the Pasteur Institute in Russia.

Members of the team were selected by WHO and finalised in consultation with Beijing.

Field studies

One important question is when the international team will conduct field studies on the ground in China, considered a critical part of the mission, which was called for by over 130 nations at a May meeting of the WHO governing body.

“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,” Ryan said.