Members of the World Health Organization team visit the Hubei Animal Epidemic Disease Prevention and Control Center in Wuhan, China. Reuters
A team of investigators led by the World Health Organization (WHO) arrived on Tuesday at an animal health facility in China’s central city of Wuhan in the search for clues about the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The independent team has already visited key hospitals, the regional disease control centre and the city’s Huanan seafood market, where the first cluster of infections was believed to have originated late in 2019.
The trip was going “really well, excellent,” one of its members, Peter Daszak, president of the EcoHealth Alliance, told Reuters on Tuesday, responding to a query just before entering the animal health centre.
As the team left, Daszak said it had held “very informative meetings,” but did not elaborate.
The centre in the province of Hubei, which fights epidemic diseases in animals, could provide information on how a coronavirus endemic in horseshoe bats in southwest China might have crossed into humans, possibly via an intermediary species.
Studies suggest the virus could have been transferred from mink or pangolins, but there has also been speculation that traders dealing in bat products could have carried the disease for months before it began to spread in Wuhan.
Peter Ben Embarek, the WHO’s top expert on “zoonotic” diseases that originate in animals, was among the team members clad in white suits of personal protective equipment spotted within the centre’s premises.
A worker, also wearing protective gear, sprayed disinfectant on the road outside after the team had entered.
Though most researchers say the disease is most likely to have originated in China’s disturbed ecosystems, some believe it could have leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which has researched bat viruses.
The WHO team is expected to visit the institute later this week.
On Monday, the WHO’s top emergency official, Mike Ryan, said the investigation might not find all the answers to the origins of COVID-19, calling the mission a “detective story” that raises new questions.
He also criticised those who have said they would not accept the team’s findings.
“It deserves the support of the international community and it deserves to be able to finish its work,” he added.
The Wuhan Institute of Virology has collected extensive virus samples, leading to unproven allegations that it may have caused the original outbreak by leaking the virus into the surrounding community. China has strongly denied that possibility and has promoted unproven theories
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.
The statement by the World Health Organisation team that the coronavirus pandemic did not start in Wuhan is revelatory, to say the least. For months, American rhetoric, led by Donald Trump, had been portraying China in a bad light, saying it was
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.
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