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‘A time for science not rumours’

Stethoscope and a world map

Global support improves understanding of 2019-nCoV

Muriel Cozier

5 February 2020

Public Health England (PHE), an executive agency of the UK Government’s Department of Health and Social Care, has fully sequenced the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV). The new sequencing, said PHE, illustrates that so far, the virus has not evolved since the sequence was first published by China at the end of 2019.

The new information follows on from work being carried out in laboratories around the world. At the end of January researchers from The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity in Melbourne, Australia, said that they had successfully grown the Wuhan coronavirus from a patient sample.

Dr Julian Druce, Virus identification Laboratory Head at the Doherty Institute said the development was a significant breakthrough allowing for accurate investigation and diagnosis of the virus globally.

‘Chinese officials released the genome sequence of this novel coronavirus, which is helpful for diagnosis. However, having the real virus means we now have the ability to actually validate and verify all test methods and compare their sensitivities and specificities, it will be a game changer for diagnosis,’ said Dr Druce.

The virus will be used as positive control material for the Australian network of public health laboratories and sent to laboratories working closely with the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Europe. The Doherty Institute-grown virus is expected to be used to develop an antibody test, which allows for detection of the virus in patients who have not displayed symptoms.

Researchers in China have found that the virus can kill cultured human cells and that it attacks through the same molecular receptor as the coronavirus that caused Sever Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) during 2002-2003. Laboratories in France, Germany, Hong Kong and the US are set to share virus samples taken from local patients.

At the end of January, the WHO declared the coronavirus outbreak a global health emergency. WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus commended China for its response. ‘In many ways China is setting a new standard for outbreak response. It is not an exaggeration,’ Ghebreyesus said. On declaring a global health emergency Ghebreyesus said ‘Our main reason for this declaration is not because of what is happening in China, but because of what is happening in other countries. Our greatest concern is the potential for the virus to spread to countries with weaker health systems and which are ill prepared to deal with it.’

Ghebreyesus stressed that the response to the outbreak had to be evidence based and encouraged countries to continue to work together to manage and stop the outbreak. ‘This is a time for science, not rumours’, Ghebreyesus said.

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