WHO team in Wuhan to investigate Covid origins

The WHO team arrived in Wuhan today and will go into isolation for  a fortnight. Photo: Reuters
The WHO team arrived in Wuhan today and will go into isolation for a fortnight. Photo: Reuters
An international team of scientists led by the World Health Organisation has arrived in China's central city of Wuhan to investigate the origins of the novel coronavirus that sparked the pandemic, state television reported.

The team arrived late in on Thursday morning on a budget airline from Singapore and was expected to head into two weeks of quarantine. They had been set to arrive earlier this month, and China's delay of their visit drew rare public criticism from the agency's chief.

The United States, which has accused China of hiding the extent of its initial outbreak a year ago, has called for a "transparent" WHO-led investigation and criticised the terms of the visit, under which Chinese experts have done the first phase of research.

The team arrived as China battles a resurgence of cases in its northeast after managing for months to nearly stamp out domestic infections.

Peter Ben Embarek, the WHO's top expert on animal diseases that cross to other species, who went to China on a preliminary mission last July, is leading the 10 independent experts, a WHO spokesman said.

Hung Nguyen, a Vietnamese biologist who is part of the 10-member team, told Reuters that he did not expect any restrictions on the group's work in China, but cautioned against finding firm answers.

After completing quarantine, the team will spend two weeks interviewing people from research institutes, hospitals and the seafood market in Wuhan where the new pathogen is believed to have emerged, Hung added.

The team would mainly stay in Wuhan, he told Reuters in an interview on Wednesday during a stopover in Singapore.

Last week, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Gheybreyesus said he was "very disappointed" that China had still not authorised the team's entry for the long-awaited mission, but on Monday, he welcomed its announcement of their planned arrival.

"What we would like to do with the international team and counterparts in China is to go back in the Wuhan environment, re-interview in-depth the initial cases, try to find other cases that were not detected at that time and try to see if we can push back the history of the first cases," Ben Embarek said in November.

China has been pushing a narrative via state media that the virus existed abroad before it was discovered in Wuhan, citing the presence of the virus on imported frozen food packaging and scientific papers claiming it had been circulating in Europe in 2019.

"We are looking for the answers here that may save us in future - not culprits and not people to blame," the WHO's top emergency expert, Mike Ryan, told reporters this week, adding that the WHO was willing to go "anywhere and everywhere" to find out how the virus emerged.

Team member Marion Koopmans, a virologist at Erasmus University Medical Center in the Netherlands, said last month it was too soon to say whether the SARS-CoV-2 virus had jumped directly from bats to humans or had an intermediate animal host.

"At this stage what I think we need is a very open mind when trying to step back into the events that led eventually to this pandemic," she told reporters. 

drivesouth-pow-family_0.png

 

 

Advertisement

postanote_header_620_x_80.png

postanote_620_x_25.jpg

Local trusted journalism matters - now more than ever

As the Covid-19 pandemic brings the world into uncharted waters, Star Media journalists and photographers continue to report local stories that matter everyday - yours.

For more than 152 years our journalists have provided Cantabrians with local news that can be trusted. It’s more important now than ever to keep Cantabrians connected.

As our advertising has fallen during the pandemic, support from you our reader is crucial.

You can help us continue to provide local news you can trust simply by becoming a supporter.

Become a Supporter