The World Health Organization will launch a new investigation into the origin of the Covid outbreak and investigate whether the virus originated from a lab in Wuhan.
A new team of experts will be appointed, including experts in biosecurity, laboratory safety, genetics and how viruses spread to humans, The Wall Street Journal reports.
They will investigate at the end of 2019 whether the coronavirus has leaked from a laboratory in Wuhan – a claim that is denied by China, which also wants the WHO to investigate whether the virus originated in another country.
It comes after US President Joe Biden ordered intelligence agencies to investigate the theory of the “lab leak.”
A WHO spokesperson said the “priority of the new team should be data and access in the country where the first reports were identified.”
The earlier investigation recommended that China investigate the earliest suspected cases of coronavirus, with the team claiming in its final report that the data provided by the country was inadequate.
Western intelligence agencies had seemingly written off the ‘external’ chance that the lab — which researches bat-derived coronaviruses — had played a role. Pictured: Researchers in a lab at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan, central China’s Hubei province, February 2017
The news comes as the number of deaths and cases from Covid-19 both increased on Sunday, compared to the previous week’s figures.
The number of infections rose to 32,417 and the number of deaths from the virus rose by 3.5 percent compared to the previous Sunday, when 58 deaths were revealed. The week before, there were 29,612 new cases and 56 deaths.
Separate data suggested that Covid infections fell sharply last week, despite fears the new school year would sooner trigger a fall surge.
One in 90 people in England had the virus, with a total of about 620,100 infected, according to testing by the Office for National Statistics.
This is 18 percent less than two weeks earlier, when one in 70 tested positive and the estimated total number of infections stood at 754,000.
The weekly ONS survey, based on random swabs from 150,000 people, is seen by the government as the most reliable measure of the epidemic.
The government said as of today, a further 122 people have died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid, bringing the total in the UK to 136,105.
Separate figures published by the Office for National Statistics show that there are now 160,000 deaths recorded in the UK where Covid-19 was listed on the death certificate.
As of 9am on Saturday, there were a further 31,348 lab-confirmed Covid cases in the UK, the government said.
In a further boost to hopes that the pandemic may be over, government scientists said the R rate — the average number infected by someone with the virus — may have fallen below one for the first time since March. R is between 0.8 and 1 in England, which means the epidemic is shrinking.
ONS study leader Kara Steel said: ‘Infection levels in England have fallen for the first time in weeks, although rates in the UK generally remain high.
“It is encouraging that the number of infections among young adults has continued to fall, possibly as a result of the impact of the vaccination program.”
Infections are highest among high school students, with about one in 35 testing positive, reflecting the fact that many in this age group have yet to be vaccinated.
But the ONS report shows that the number of cases has decreased or remained the same in every other age group.
Last week, Boris Johnson said further restrictions may be needed under a ‘Plan B’ this winter after scientists warned the virus could cripple the NHS again.
No10 declined to say when Plan B — including mandatory masks, vaccine passports and working from home — could be introduced.
But scientists have suggested the NHS would struggle if the total number of hospital cases exceeded 10,000.
The latest data shows that the number of admissions has fallen by 16 percent in the past week and that there are 7,124 Covid patients in hospital – the lowest level since August.
Current UK hospital admissions, at 572 per day, are about half the best case scenario in Sage models.
Daily infections currently average 36,000, with a further 35,623 cases and 180 deaths yesterday.
Experts have warned that a back-to-school wave is still possible and England could follow the trajectory of Scotland, where cases recently reached an all-time high.
James Naismith, Oxford University professor, director of the Rosalind Franklin Institute, said: ‘The very high prevalence in Scotland is a concern – it’s about double that in England.
“I sincerely hope England don’t reach the level seen in Scotland.” He added: ‘Cases remain concentrated in the very youngest, who are least likely to get sick and end up in hospital.
‘Due to vaccination there is no going back to the death rates… we saw it early this year.’