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  • Worldwide vaccination vital to curb COVID-19

    Author: AAP

An Australian virologist says global vaccination and the quick sharing of virus data are vital to combat COVID-19, a disease that is "with us forever".

Worldwide vaccination is critical in fighting COVID-19, but Australia is at risk of losing sight of that big picture, one of the world's leading virologists says.

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Professor Edward Holmes from the University of Sydney told an inaugural COVID-19 conference, held via videolink on Friday, that Australia should give more doses to other countries as part of a global vaccination effort.

He warned while Australia could "naval gaze" about its own health system, there was a risk of missing the bigger global picture.

"I think we've made a huge moral error and a scientific error too ... we're not going to move on until we've got the whole world vaccinated. That's the critical thing to do," he said.

In January 2020, Prof Holmes was the first to publicise the genome sequence of SARS-CoV-2, which led to the rapid development of diagnostic testing.

He said he expected the virus would occasionally evolve to escape immunity, but serious disease and death from COVID-19 would decline over time.

"This virus will be with us forever. We'll have good years and bad, bad years," he said.

He also called for greater scrutiny of the way humans interact with wildlife to monitor for emerging diseases, and more stringent regulation of animal markets and trade in wildlife.

"Live animal markets are an accident waiting to happen... it has happened, it's going to happen again," he said.

Prof Holmes said he was worried that inquiries into the origins of the virus had become politicised, and warned the world would be a less safe place if scientists could not freely and quickly share their data.

"We have to learn the lesson, otherwise we are doomed to repeat a very grisly history."

He told the conference that conjecture the virus had been engineered inside a virology lab in Wuhan, China, was "simply not true," and said the lab-leak theory "collapses quite quickly" when faced with evidence.

A similar bat virus which had been kept at the Wuhan lab, named RaTG13, came from a different part of China to SARS-CoV-2, and even this virus had differences equivalent to at least 20 years of evolutionary change, he said.

He said the overwhelming evidence was that the virus had jumped from an animal and infected a human.

While the exact origin is still unknown, likely candidates for animal hosts include Malayan pangolins that had been illegally smuggled into China, as well as horseshoe bats.


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