A security officer stands outside Jinyintan Hospital in Wuhan, Hubei province, China, on Saturday. Reuters
The team of World Health Organization (WHO) experts investigating the origins of the coronavirus met staff that had treated early COVID-19 patients on their second full day of work on Saturday.
The group was driven to the Jinyintan Hospital, one of the city’s first to deal with patients in early 2020 suffering from a then-unknown virus, as the horrors of the virus emerged in the central Chinese city.
"Just back from visit at Jinyintan hospital, that specialised in infectious diseases and was designated for treatment of the first cases in Wuhan," Dutch virologist Marion Koopmans said in a post on Twitter. "Stories quite similar to what I have heard from our ICU doctors.”
Members of the World Health Organisation team talk outside their hotel in Wuhan, Hubei province, China. Reuters
Zoologist Peter Daszak of the US group EcoHealth Alliance, who is a member of the team, said in a tweet that the visit was an "important opportunity to talk directly” with medics who were fighting the virus at the critical time, according to The Associated Press.
Details of the trip have been scant so far, with the media kept at arm's length and information on the itinerary dribbling out via tweets from the WHO experts instead of China's communist authorities.
The team’s first face-to-face meetings with Chinese scientists took place on Friday, before the experts who specialize in animal health, virology, food safety and epidemiology visited another early site of the outbreak, the Hubei Integrated Chinese and Western Medicine Hospital.
The Geneva-based WHO said late Thursday on Twitter that its team plans to visit hospitals, markets like the Huanan Seafood Market that was linked to many of the first cases, the Wuhan Institute of Virology, and laboratories at facilities including the Wuhan Center for Disease Control.
Members of the World Health Organization team chat after returning to their hotel in Wuhan on Saturday. AP
"All hypotheses are on the table as the team follows the science in their work to understand the origins of the COVID19 virus,” WHO tweeted. It said the team had already requested "detailed underlying data” and planned to speak with early responders and some of the first patients.
The mission has become politically charged, as China seeks to avoid blame for alleged missteps in its early response to the outbreak.
A single visit by scientists is unlikely to confirm the virus’s origins. Pinning down an outbreak’s animal reservoir is typically an exhaustive endeavor that takes years of research including taking animal samples, genetic analysis and epidemiological studies.
Member of the World Health Organisation leaves Jinyintan Hospital in Wuhan, Hubei province on Saturday. Reuters
One possibility is that a wildlife poacher might have passed the virus to traders who carried it to Wuhan. The Chinese government has promoted theories, with little evidence, that the outbreak might have started with imports of frozen seafood tainted with the virus, a notion roundly rejected by international scientists and agencies.A possible focus for investigators is the Wuhan Institute of Virology. One of China’s top virus research labs, it built an archive of genetic information about bat coronaviruses after the 2003 outbreak of SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome.
The head of the World Health Organization-led team in the central Chinese city of Wuhan probing the origins of COVID-19 said on Tuesday that cold chain transmission of the virus is a possibility and warrants further investigation.
The mission, delayed by China and weighed down by political baggage, has a remit to explore how the virus jumped from animal to human. Experts say the Huanan market still plays a role in tracing the origins of the virus, since the first cluster of cases was identified there.
Most scientists reject the hypothesis, but some speculate that a virus captured from the wild could have figured in experiments at the lab to test the risks of a human spillover and then escaped via an infected staff member.
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