我们需要一个全球爆发调查小组-现在

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本周,对Covid-19起源的一个备受期待的事实调查任务是对中国进行了为期一个月的实地访问。由世界卫生组织任命的科学家团队目前正撰写他们的发现,这些发现将下周的总结报告中发表,预计此之后的某个时候将发布一份完整的报告。但是星期二,与中国卫生官员的联合简报中,研究小组的领导人向全世界揭露了他们所挖掘出的新信息。它有权调查已批准公约条款的任何国家的袭击并检查化工厂。

本周,对Covid-19起源的一个备受期待的事实调查任务是对中国进行了为期一个月的实地访问。由世界卫生组织任命的科学家团队目前正撰写他们的发现,这些发现将下周的总结报告中发表,预计此之后的某个时候将发布一份完整的报告。但是星期二,与中国卫生官员的联合简报中,研究小组的领导人向全世界揭露了他们所挖掘出的新信息。简而言之,不多。

“我们是否已经大大改变了我们之前的印象?我不这么认为,”负责调查的世界卫生组织人畜共患病专家彼得·本·恩布雷克(Peter Ben Embarek)说。像大多数科学家一样,该小组仍然主张SARS-CoV-2起源于动物,然后才扩散到人类。 “我们是否增进了理解?我们是否该故事中添加了细节?绝对是。”他继续说道。

该小组添加的最重要的细节是它对有争议的实验室释放假说的明显否认,本·恩巴雷克称其为“极不可能”。该声明是对北京事件形式的提振,该事件已经提出了未经证实的说法,即SARS-CoV-2可能起源于中国境外,并引发了新一轮的地缘政治争吵,争论的焦点是谁应该承担将Covid-19变成联合国的责任。全球大流行。但是,周五,世卫组织总干事特德罗斯·阿德诺姆·吉布里亚索斯似乎退缩了,他新闻发布会上说:“所有假设都尚未确定,可能需要进一步的分析和研究。”他还承认,世卫组织的调查未必最适合提出这些答案。他说:“其中一些工作可能不这项任务的职权范围之内。”

哪一个使人怀疑,如果不是世界卫生组织,那又是谁呢?许多生物安全专家多年来一直考虑这一问题。根据其章程,世卫组织其侵入性方面固有地受到限制。该组织只能进入成员国并以这些国家的条件该国从事研究,它没有真正的执行权。而且,如果有的话,最近十二个月强调了如何限制这些限制,并说明了尝试新事物的必要性。

约翰·霍普金斯大学彭博公共卫生学院卫生安全中心主任汤姆·英格莱斯比(Tom Inglesby)通过电子邮件对《连线》杂志说:“我们需要采取不同的做法,以迅速评估事件的起源,从而产生如此全球性的后果。” “我们应该达成国际共识,任何具有国际影响力的新的无法解释的流行事件都将使用最新的全球科学的所有工具迅速而公正地进行调查。”

尽管他没有提供其他选择,但已经存其他确保全球范围内进行更大监督的模型。国际原子能机构(IAEA)负责监督《不扩散核武器条约》的191个签署国的核活动。其核查人员对设施进行定期(有时​​是出乎意料的)访问,以核实核材料仅用于和平目的而不是被武器化。

还有禁化武组织,即禁止化学武器组织,它是1997年《化学武器公约》的执行机构。它有权调查已批准公约条款的任何国家的袭击并检查化工厂。 Koblentz说:“您可以设想一个类似的国际机构,可能要求BSL-4实验室报告其内部正进行的活动。” BSL-4代表4级的生物安全性,该名称授予配备有研究世界上最危险和最奇特的病原体的各种设施。《生物武器公约》下已经存一种现行的法律结构,即禁止此类武器发展的国际条约,从理论上讲,可以建立一个机构的执法权。

但是,鉴于《生物武器公约》是其183个缔约国的共识下运作的,而且自2005年以来他们一直未能就任何重大倡议达成共识,因此该方法可能太慢了,以至于无法发挥作用。这也太过分了。由于实际上只有不到40个国家/地区拥有BSL-4实验室,因此您只需要尽可能多的国家/地区签署一份单独的协议,即可通过一家致力于生物风险管理的新机构对其进行国际监督。其他国家可以根据需要加入。

科布伦茨说,或者,联合国安理会可以建立这样一个机构,就像它成立委员会以检查伊拉克可能的大规模杀伤性武器一样。这样做不会使它们受到这些实体的遗产的污染-尽管他们的调查被用来为美国入侵伊拉克辩护,尽管没有携带任何武器-但这很棘手。

两者都需要时间。国际条约不是一朝一夕发生的。作为权宜之计,伦敦国王学院的生物安全专家菲利帕·伦佐斯(Filippa Lentzos)提出了世界卫生大会(世界卫生组织的决策机构)的建议,作为强制进行调查的另一种途径,该调查可以使报道一旦发生就立即启动。爆发具有大流行潜力的疾病。但是,这种方法也可能依赖于成员国的自愿合作。

顺便说一句,WHO工作组认为他们的结果被低估了。周五的新闻发布会上,《连线》(WIRED)问世卫组织官员和任务小组成员他们认为自己做得如何。本·恩巴拉克(Ben Embarak)承认,他的团队仍未找到SARS-CoV-2的确切来源,但他列举了一系列较小的成功,包括对该病毒武汉的早期发展的新见解。基因测序表明,最早的病例实际上早于最初报告的时间开始-最早于2019年12月8日。其中一些感染发生与该市首次大规模爆发地点华南海鲜市场无关的人群中。他说:“因此,我们对市场的作用比以前有了更好的了解。”

世卫组织宣教团队成员马里恩·库普曼斯(Marion Koopmans)是荷兰伊拉斯姆斯大学医学中心的分子流行病学专业病毒学家,他指出有时成功之处于您所看不到的东西-他们追逐的领先者最终无济于事。例如,他们看到了来自实验的数据,该实验中,中国科学家筛选了来自全国各地的30,000只动物,以抗SARS-CoV-2病毒。他们都测试阴性。考普曼斯说:“这种情况下,这告诉我们尚无中间主机的明确候选人。”

他们的总体信息是,完整的报告仍将要发布,尽管它可能还没有全部答案,但这是迈向第一步的第一步。世卫组织突发卫生事件规划负责人迈克·瑞安(Mike Ryan)说:“我们取得了进步。” “这就是您科学中所做的一切。”

如果世界各国将要建立一个独立的机构来监视高危生命科学研究,那么可以最早爆发的迹象(自然,偶然或有意的爆发)中部署这一机构,目前尚不清楚机制将是正确的。显然,不久的将来,加强监督的需求只会变得更加迫切。如果有过去的流行病迹象,科布伦茨说,他希望许多国家未来几年中投入大量资金来提高其生物医学研究能力。武汉病毒研究所的建设本身就是对2003年SARS疫情的回应,也是中国当时对导致其的冠状病毒进行分离和鉴定的能力有限。尽管这是中国第一个BSL-4级设施,但它并不是最后一个。政府已宣布计划到2025年中国大陆再建造5至7座。

研究多种冠状病毒家族树的更多金钱和动力应该是不容置疑的。弄清楚病毒的行为方式以及任何人都能跳向人类的可能性,对于预测下一次大流行可能来自何方至关重要。拥有分布广泛的复杂实验室的全球网络进行监视,识别新出现的病原体并开发诊断方法以检测它们,这对于防止下一届Covid成为下一届Covid至关重要。

您不需要BSL-4实验室即可研究冠状病毒。但是您确实需要它们进行所谓的“功能获得”或“双重用途”研究-这些实验涉及对病原体进行基因调整以使它们比自然进化的更为危险。从理论上讲,这种研究可以阐明病毒可能进化为对人类更友好的条件,从而使科学家能够预测未来最有可能发生溢出的地点和方式。部分由于这个原因,它们具有巨大的吸引力作为地位的象征。它们造价昂贵,维护成本也更高,这标志着一个国家已将其“做到”了最先进的技术。但是他们也需要大量的培训和资源来安全运行。

Koblentz说,这就是为什么实验室激增的前景应该足以重新考虑现状。他说:“BSL-4实验室即将到来之时,采用国际机制将是一项非常明智的投资,这将使监督问题变得更加困难,”他说。这样的机构不仅有助于确保下一轮冠状病毒研究符合适当的安全标准,而且下次传染病大规模爆发时,由中立党派进行定期检查可以大大提高人们对调查的信心疾病。 Koblentz说:“缺乏透明度,缺乏合作使这类指控和担忧恶化。” “这使得首先确定导致这种大流行的原因变得更加困难。”

这些失败可能使公众过去12个月中误导了信息,但是它们也使全世界意识到BSL-4实验室的扩散所带来的潜危险。 Lentzos说,不抓住时机将是一个错失的机会。她通过电子邮件告诉《连线》杂志:“起源问题引发了更大范围的社会辩论,我们仍然需要就我们愿意以研究的名义承担的风险进行辩论。”

一个高风险的生物学研究监督机构可能是明智的投资,但是这需要政府的合作,而如今,这种合作似乎越来越少。 “控制大多数高含量生物实验室的发达国家已经明确表示,全球秩序趋向于单个国家以自己想要的方式监督自己的实验室,而不受其他人的干扰,”生物伦理学专家尼克·埃文斯(Nick Evans)说。马萨诸塞州洛厄尔大学。


英文译文:

This week,a much anticipated fact-finding mission into the origins of Covid-19 returned from a month-long field visit to China. The team of scientists appointed by the World Health Organization are currently writing up their findings, which will be published in a summary report next week, with a full report expected to follow sometime after that. But on Tuesday, at a joint briefing with Chinese health officials, the team’s leaders gave the world a sneak peak at what new information they had unearthed. In short, not much.

“Did we change dramatically the picture we had beforehand? I don’t think so,” said Peter Ben Embarek, a zoonosis expert with the WHO who headed the investigation. Like a majority of scientists, the group still favors the idea that SARS-CoV-2 originated in animals before spilling into humans. “Did we improve our understanding? Did we add details to that story? Absolutely,” he continued.

The most significant detail the group added was its apparent dismissal of the controversial laboratory release hypothesis, which Ben Embarek called “extremely unlikely.” The declaration was a boost to Beijing’s version of events, which has peddled unsubstantiated claims that SARS-CoV-2 could have originated outside of China, and kicked off a new round of geopolitical bickering over who should shoulder the blame for Covid-19 becoming a global pandemic. However, on Friday, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus seemed to backtrack, saying at a press briefing that “all hypotheses remain open and may require further analysis and studies.” He also acknowledged that the WHO probe might not be best positioned to come up with those answers. “Some of that work may lie outside the remit and scope of this mission,” he said.

Which leads one to wonder, if not the WHO, then who? It’s something many biosecurity experts have been thinking about for years. The WHO, by its very charter, is inherently limited in how intrusive it can be. The organization can only enter member countries and engage in research there on those countries’ terms, and it has no real powers of enforcement. And if anything, the last twelve months have highlighted just how constraining those limitations can be and have illustrated the need to try something new.

“We need to go about things differently to rapidly assess the origins of an event with such global consequences,” Tom Inglesby, director of the Center for Health Security at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told WIRED via email. “We should have international agreement that any novel unexplained epidemic event with high international impact will be rapidly and impartially investigated using all the tools of the latest global science.”

Though he didn’t offer specific alternatives, other models for ensuring greater oversight on a global scale already exist. There’s the International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, which monitors nuclear activities across the 191 signatories to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. Its inspectors conduct regular—sometimes surprise—visits to facilities to verify that nuclear materials are only being used for peaceful purposes and not being weaponized.

There’s also the OPCW, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which is the enforcement agency for the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention. It has the authority to investigate attacks and inspect chemical plants in any of the nations that have ratified the convention’s terms. “You could envision a similar international body that could require BSL-4 labs to report on the activities that go on inside them,” says Koblentz. BSL-4 stands for biosafety level 4, a title bestowed on the kinds of facilities that are equipped to study the world’s most dangerous and exotic pathogens. There’s already an existing legal structure under the Biological Weapons Convention—the international treaty banning such weapons’ development—that could, in theory, create the enforcement authority for an agency.

But given that the Biological Weapons Convention operates by the consensus of its 183 state parties, and they haven’t been able to agree on any major initiatives since 2005, that approach might be too slow to make a difference. It’d also be overkill. Since fewer than 40 countries actually have BSL-4 labs, you’d just need as many of those nations as possible to sign on to a separate agreement subjecting them to international oversight by a new agency dedicated to bio-risk management. Other countries could join as needed.

Alternatively, says Kobrentz, the UN Security Council could establish such a body, the same way it created commissions to inspect Iraq for possible weapons of mass destruction. Doing that without having them tainted by the legacies of those entities—whose investigations were used to justify the US invasion of Iraq, despite not turning up any weapons—well, it could be tricky.

Both of those would take time. International treaties don’t happen overnight. As a stopgap measure, Filippa Lentzos, a biosecurity expert at Kings College London, has proposed the World Health Assembly—the decisionmaking body that governs the WHO—as another possible avenue for mandating investigations that can get boots on the ground the moment reports of an outbreak with pandemic potential emerge. But that approach, too, would likely rely on the voluntary cooperation of member states. 

The WHO task force, by the way, feels that their results are being undersold. During a press briefing Friday, WIRED asked WHO officials and mission team members how well they thought they’d done. Ben Embarak acknowledged that his team was still far from pinpointing the exact origins of SARS-CoV-2, but he listed a series of smaller successes, including new insights into the virus’s early days in Wuhan. Genetic sequencing showed the first cases actually began earlier than initially reported—as early as December 8, 2019. And some of those infections were in people with no relationship to the Huanan Seafood Market, the site of the city’s first large outbreak. “So we have a much better understanding of the role of the market than we did before,” he said.

WHO mission team member Marion Koopmans, a virologist specializing in molecular epidemiology at the Erasmus University Medical Centre in the Netherlands, made the point that sometimes the success is in what you don’t see—the leads they chased down that turned out to be nothing. For example, they saw data from experiments in which Chinese scientists screened 30,000 animals from all over the country for susceptibility to SARS-CoV-2. They all tested negative. “In this case, that tells us there’s not a clear candidate for intermediate hosts yet,” Koopmans said.

Their overall message is that the full report is still to come, and while it may not have all the answers, it is a first step toward getting them. “We’ve made progress,” said Mike Ryan, head of the WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme. “That’s all you ever make in science.”

If the world’s nations are going to set up a stand-alone agency for monitoring high-risk life science research, one that can be deployed at the earliest sign of an emerging outbreak—be it natural, accidental, or intentional—it’s still unclear which mechanism will be the right one. It’s more obvious that the need for increased oversight is only going to grow more acute in the near future. If past pandemics are any indication, Koblentz says he expects many countries to put a lot of money into boosting their biomedical research capabilities in the coming years. The construction of the Wuhan Institute of Virology was itself a response to the 2003 SARS outbreak and China’s limited ability at the time to isolate and characterize the coronavirus that caused it. And though it was the first BSL-4-level facility in China, it won’t be the last. The government has announced plans to build between five and seven more across the Chinese mainland by 2025.

More money and momentum for studying the diverse coronavirus family tree should be an unmitigated good. Figuring out how the viruses behave and how likely it is that any one can make the hop to humans will be key to predicting where the next pandemic might come from. Having a well-distributed global network of sophisticated labs to conduct surveillance, identify emerging pathogens, and develop diagnostics to detect them will be key to preventing the next Covid from becoming, well, the next Covid.

You don’t need a BSL-4 lab to study coronaviruses. But you do need them to conduct so-called “gain-of-function” or “dual-use” research—experiments involving genetically tweaking pathogens to make them more dangerous than nature evolved them to be. This kind of research could, in theory, illuminate the conditions under which viruses might evolve to be more human-friendly, allowing scientists to forecast where and how future spillovers are most likely to occur. Partly for that reason, they have an outsized appeal as a status symbol. Expensive to build and even more expensive to maintain, they’re a sign of a nation having “made it” to the highest tiers of technological sophistication. But they also require significant training and resources to run safely.

Which is why the prospect of a proliferation of labs should be reason enough for rethinking the status quo, says Koblentz. “An international mechanism would be an extremely smart investment to make now, before you have this coming boom in BSL-4 labs that is going to make the oversight question even harder,” he says. Not only would such an agency help to ensure that the next wave of coronavirus research meets adequate safety standards, but having regular inspections by a neutral party could go a long way toward creating confidence in the investigation the next time there’s a major outbreak of a contagious disease. “It’s the lack of transparency, it’s the lack of cooperation that has allowed these kinds of allegations and concerns to fester,” says Koblentz. “And that makes it that much harder to determine what caused the emergence of this pandemic in the first place.”

Those failures may have left the public to marinate in misinformation for the last 12 months, but they’ve also awakened the world to the latent dangers posed by the proliferation of BSL-4 labs. And not seizing the moment would be a missed opportunity, says Lentzos. “The origins question feeds into a bigger societal debate that we still need to have about the risks we’re willing to take in the name of research,” she told WIRED via email.

A high-risk biology research oversight agency might be a smart investment, but it will require the kind of government cooperation that seems in shorter and shorter supply these days. “Developed nations, which control the majority of high-containment biological labs, have made it clear that the global order tends toward individual nations supervising their own labs the way they want without interference from others,” says Nick Evans, a bioethics expert at the University of Massachusetts Lowell.


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