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“This isn’t something that should drag on forever, and the U.S. doesn’t want it to drag on forever,” he said. “We can’t just ignore it.”

Synthetic biology is “not something you can do in your garage,” cautioned Dr. Sylvie Briand, WHO’s director of pandemic diseases.

But destroying the virus isn’t the real issue, she said: “The real debate is what is the public health risk nowadays, and what are the response measures we have in hand to mitigate those risks.”