The Independent Task Force on COVID-19 and Other Pandemics unveiled its latest report on Monday, finding the world had “largely failed” to be prepared to prevent or respond to another pandemic.
WATCH THE VIDEO ABOVE: Are COVID rules finally over?
Watch the latest News on Channel 7 or stream for free on 7plus >>
It found that COVID-19 likely originated in animals and spread to humans.
Without adequate planning, the task force says, it’s only a matter of time before it happens again.
“The world has largely failed to meet the challenge to be better prepared to prevent or respond adequately enough to the next pandemic, whatever the aetiology,” Independent Task Force chair Dr Gerald T Keusch said.
“Our task force believes that the best way to address risk factors for future pandemics is a One Health approach that balances and optimises the health of people, animals, and ecosystems.”
The report said the emergence of zoonotic viruses was an “urgent and growing threat” to public health.
“Increasing outbreaks in recent decades have been driven by many factors, including human and livestock population growth coupled with expanding human-animal-environment interfaces, changing patterns of land use, climate change, globalised travel, and trade,” the report said.
“These outbreaks have common characteristics, including zoonotic spillover from an animal reservoir host to humans, with or without involvement of another animal transmission host.”
One of two Australian scientists on the task force is Dr Danielle Anderson from The Peter Doherty Institute in Victoria.
She said the emergence of COVID-19 brought scientific disciplines to the forefront and highlighted their importance.
“The COVID-19 pandemic introduced or highlighted scientific disciplines, such as virology and epidemiology, to the broader community,” Anderson said.
“Although the ‘lessons learned’ are certainly not new to scientists, it is our responsibility to ensure that these lessons and our recommendations are better understood and are more readily embraced and acted upon to protect communities, animals and ecosystems now and in the future.”
The group’s findings come on the back of two studies released earlier this year that found that the COVID-19 pandemic likely originated in a market in Wuhan, China.
One of those investigations was reported to be inconclusive, primarily because data from China was missing.
The most recent research, published online by the journal Science in August, showed the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market was likely the early epicentre of the virus.
It concludes that the virus that causes COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2, spilled from animals into people on two separate occasions.
Kristian Andersen, a professor in the Department of Immunology and Microbiology at Scripps Research and co-author of one of the studies, said he was initially “convinced” of the lab leak theory.
But he’s since changed his mind.
“All this evidence tells us the same thing: It points right to this particular market in the middle of Wuhan,” Andersen said.
“I was quite convinced of the lab leak myself until we dove into this very carefully and looked at it much closer.”
In one study, which incorporated data collected by Chinese scientists, mapping tools were used to estimate the locations of more than 150 of the earliest reported COVID-19 cases.
They also mapped cases from January and February 2020 using data from a social media app.
University of Arizona evolutionary biologist Michael Worobey and his colleagues asked the question: “Of all the locations that the early cases could have lived, where did they live?”
The data revealed a pattern that showed the highest density of cases were near and centred on the wet market.
“Crucially, this applies both to all cases in December and also to cases with no known link to the market,” Worobey said.
“And this is an indication that the virus started spreading in people who worked at the market but then started to spread into the local community.”
Andersen said case clusters were found inside the market, where they now know people were selling wildlife species that are susceptible to infection with COVID.