New Zealand statement on WHO-convened global study of origins of COVID-19

Ministry Statements & Speeches:

New Zealand considers the recently released WHO-convened global study of origins of COVID-19 an important report, and a useful step in the work on the origins of COVID-19, in particular when human to human transfer may have first started to occur in a range of countries. We appreciate the WHO’s role in this critical work.

The report is valuable in highlighting areas where further technical work is required to make sure we can prepare better, as individual countries and as a global community, for any future pandemics.

The report has identified further areas for data collection and research into the origins of COVID-19, particularly as it applies to the original, and or continuing, presence of wildlife reservoirs of the virus. It has helpfully highlighted the critical importance of the One Health approach between human health and animal health regulatory agencies, shining a spotlight on an area that deserves greater attention. 

It is clear many questions remain unanswered as to exactly how the virus was first introduced into the human population. New Zealand considers that, regardless of how the initial spill over occurred, it is clear that once this respiratory virus was introduced into the human population human-to-human transfer has almost exclusively accounted for the global spread thereafter. The risk of transmission from close contact with animal products from clinically infected susceptible (wild) animal species should not be confused with trade in safe traditional food from non-susceptible species. 

New Zealand notes there is still more work to be done globally to look at potentially emerging zoonotic disease threats associated with the trade in, the farming of, or the harvesting of animal products, from what are traditionally wildlife species. We encourage all countries to collaborate further in how the trade in animals or products from such non-traditional food species is managed so as to be assured that the potential zoonotic risk profiles are known and can be appropriately managed.

New Zealand supports the WHO’s proposals for further work, including future collaborative studies and comprehensive data sharing between all members on the endemic presence of strains of the virus in susceptible wildlife species. We share the regrets of others at the limitations around access to early samples and related data.  We support WHO Director-General Tedros’s expectation that future collaborative studies include more timely and comprehensive data sharing. We look forward to the Director-General sharing with Member States proposed next steps for further work.

We emphasise that outcomes from work on the origins of COVID-19 need to link to the ongoing and complementary work of the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response. Good connections between the two are critical to ensure that we most effectively learn from COVID-19 to better prevent or respond to the next pandemic. 

New Zealand remains fully committed to working with the WHO and Member States on the critical issue of global health security, including engaging on work regarding the origin of COVID-19. We are happy to contribute to further work, noting our unique approach in pursuing an elimination strategy means we have been able to document and characterise the role that inflight and aerosol transmission of particles can play.

Finally, New Zealand would like to acknowledge the difficult task asked of the independent experts and thank them for their efforts.


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