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Call for Phase Two

Members of the World Health Organization's investigative team say time is running out in the effort to trace where SARS-CoV-2 arose, the Associated Press says.

In a commentary published in Nature, Erasmus Medical Center's Marion Koopmans and other members of the team write that their March report was envisioned as a first step, but that the process has since "stalled." In their report, the WHO team said SARS-CoV-2 likely arose in bats before being passed via an intermediate animal host to people and that the lab-leak theory was "extremely unlikely." The report has since drawn fire and been criticized for not having all the needed data.

The team members write at Nature that investigating the lab-leak theory was not initially part of their mandate, though they still included it. While they examined lab safety and worker absenteeism at labs in the Wuhan area, the team members note they were unable to access some medical records and reserved their examination for the second phase of the investigation.

That second phase, which they say should include antibody surveys and trace-back analyses, will become more difficult to perform with the passage of time. "The window of opportunity for conducting this crucial inquiry is closing fast: any delay will render some of the studies biologically impossible," they write at Nature. "Understanding the origins of a devastating pandemic is a global priority, grounded in science."