Despite no fresh fatalities caused by COVID-19 in the country since May 31, a fresh uptick in the number of cases in the last week or ten days has not escaped our notice. The daily positivity rate, measuring the proportion of tests coming back positive for the disease, jumped back above 5 percent for the first time in a long time on June 16th. The number of cases has crept up to the hundreds again (357 on the 16th), from a few dozen or so that it had dropped to at one point. But the case numbers have now risen for 14 days in a row. It has caused Health Minister Zahid Maleque, embattled for much of the length of the pandemic, to come out and issue a warning Covid-19 has not been eradicated yet, and that the situation may yet take another alarming turn, although it remains 'normal' for now.
Doctors have also reported generally mild symptoms in patients seeking care, suggesting the milder Omicron variant continues to establish its dominance. Meanwhile the WHO this week officially exercised a sharp reversal from its initial assessment of the pandemic's origins. It comes after many critics accused the UN health agency of being too quick to dismiss or underplay a lab-leak theory, mainly propagated by the Trump administration when it was in power in Washington, that put Chinese officials on the defensive. It posited that the controversial 'gain of function' research on coronaviruses being carried out at the Wuhan Institute of Virology may have been the source of the outbreak.
Following a tightly controlled visit to China last year, the WHO concluded that it was "extremely unlikely" the coronavirus might have spread to humans from the lab in Wuhan, which works in collaboration with institutes from all over the world, including the US National Institutes of Health, or NIH. Most scientists suspect the coronavirus jumped from bats to people, possibly via another animal. That is how most pandemics ensue. That report backed a theory that the virus most likely jumped from an animal to a human host in a wet market rather than the lab in Wuhan. But that intermediary is yet to be pinpointed.
Identifying a disease's source in animals typically takes years. It took more than a decade for scientists to pinpoint the species of bats that were the natural reservoir for SARS, a relative of COVID-19.
In this week's report however, the WHO's expert group said "key pieces of data" to explain how the pandemic began were still missing, in a clear change of tone from what it earlier advocated. The scientists said the group would "remain open to any and all scientific evidence that becomes available in the future to allow for comprehensive testing of all reasonable hypotheses." But with science more and more obscured by geopolitics in a moment of flux in the international order, a consensus on the issue may be a long time coming. And that can only harm our readiness and resolve to fight the next pandemic, whenever it may strike us.
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