WHO Launches ‘CoViNet’ to Track Evolution and Spread of High-Threat Coronaviruses
CoViNet – The new network includes nearly 3 dozen research laboratories across the world with an expanded mandate.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has launched a new network, CoViNet, aimed at identifying, monitoring, and evaluating SARS-CoV-2, MERS-CoV, and emerging coronaviruses that pose significant public health risks.

The program expands on the WHO COVID-19 reference laboratory network, established in January 2020, in the early days of the pandemic.

Originally, the network’s primary goal was to offer confirmatory testing to countries lacking the capacity for testing SARS-CoV-2, including new variants. Over time, the requirements related to SARS-CoV-2 have changed. As such, CoViNet, with its “enhanced epidemiological and laboratory capacities,” according to WHO, will focus on tracking the virus’s evolution and the spread of variants and evaluating how these variants affect public health. The network brings together experts in animal health and environmental surveillance, other existing coronaviruses, and the identification of novel coronaviruses that could negatively affect human health. 

One Health focus 

The network will emphasize the significance of adopting a “OneHealth” strategy, the agency also added in a press release. The COVID-19 pandemic underscored the need for a comprehensive health approach that considers interactions among various species. The virus likely originated from a bat and was transmitted to humans through infected mammals kept and processed under unhygienic conditions at a market in Wuhan, China.

Finally, CoViNet will contribute to shaping WHO policies regarding public health and medical interventions. The data collected by CoViNet will inform the decisions of WHO’s Technical Advisory Groups on Viral Evolution and Vaccine Composition, among others. This will help ensure global health strategies and tools are grounded in the most up-to-date scientific insights.

“Coronaviruses have time and again demonstrated their epidemic and pandemic risk. We thank our partners from around the world who are working to better understand high-threat coronaviruses like SARS, MERS, and COVID-19 and to detect novel coronaviruses,” said Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, acting Director of WHO’s Department of Epidemic and Pandemic Preparedness and Prevention. “This new global network for coronaviruses will ensure timely detection, monitoring, and assessment of coronaviruses of public health importance.”

So far, 36 laboratories from 21 countries are involved in the network – from FIOCRUZ in Brazil to Geneva University Hospitals, Institut Pasteur in Dakar, Senegal, and Pakistan’s National Institute of Health.  Representatives from the labs met last week in Geneva to finalize an action plan for the next 12 months.

WHO has reported 6,932,591 coronavirus deaths and 766,440,796 cases since the pandemic began – although the real number of deaths worldwide is presumed to have been far higher. The pandemic was declared over last year, while the number of people dying from the disease has declined since the Omicron variant first detected in the fall of 2021 in southern Africa became dominant.  But WHO has continued to encourage countries to report weekly aggregate indicators of COVID-19 morbidity and mortality and variant surveillance data, warning that new variants of the virus, or other related emerging viruses could still pose a global health risk. 

Image Credits: WHO .

Combat the infodemic in health information and support health policy reporting from the global South. Our growing network of journalists in Africa, Asia, Geneva and New York connect the dots between regional realities and the big global debates, with evidence-based, open access news and analysis. To make a personal or organisational contribution click here on PayPal.