Peter Ben Embarek speaks during a press conference in Wuhan on Tuesday. AFP
A joint WHO and China team probing the origins of Covid-19 wrapped up without providing any insights into the origins of the pandemic, as one of the Middle East's worst hit nations began a vaccination campaign.
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.
Transmission from animals was likely, said Liang Wannian, head of the Chinese contingent, but the host of the virus, which has claimed more than 2.3 million lives and gutted the global economy "remain to be identified."
A journalist raises her hand to ask a question at the WHO-China Joint Study Press Conference in Wuhan on Tuesday. AP
The WHO mission — which Beijing repeatedly delayed — was dogged by fears of a whitewash, with the US demanding a "robust" probe and China firing back with a warning not to "politicise" the investigation.
However, Peter Ben Embarek, a WHO specialist in animal diseases who leads the independent group of experts, also said the team's nearly month-long investigation in Wuhan had not dramatically changed the picture of the outbreak.
"We know the virus can survive in conditions that are found in these cold, frozen environments, but we don't really understand if the virus can transmit to humans" or under which conditions, he told the briefing.
During the closely-monitored visit — which included a visit to a propaganda exhibition celebrating China's recovery — reporters were largely kept at arms' length from the experts.
Liang, supported by WHO foreign expert Ben Embarek, said there was "no indication" the sickness was circulating in Wuhan before December 2019 when the first official cases were recorded.
Embarek also scotched controversial theories the virus had leaked from a lab, calling it "extremely unlikely".
The ultra structural morphology exhibited by the 2019 Novel Coronavirus. File/Reuters
As the global tally of infections passed 106 million, Britain was expected to become the latest country Tuesday to announce mandatory coronavirus tests in quarantine for all arrivals.
WHO backs AstraZeneca shot
Iran began its vaccination campaign against Covid-19 on Tuesday to fight the Middle East's deadliest outbreak of the illness.
It will initially use Russia's Sputnik V shots, with 4.2 million doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccines also expected under the Covax mechanism, which intends to ensure procurement and equitable international distribution of jabs.
The AstraZeneca vaccine makes up the bulk of initial Covax deliveries to some 145 countries -- mostly in poorer parts of the world -- but it suffered a setback in recent days with a trial showing it only offers minimal protection against the coronavirus variant first detected in South Africa.The results forced South Africa to delay the start of its vaccination campaign, but the WHO insisted Monday that the AstraZeneca shot remained vital to the global fight against Covid-19.
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 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
The WHO team also concluded the theory of a lab experiment gone wrong was “extremely unlikely,” while introducing new avenues of inquiry, chiming with China’s view that it may have originated overseas or been spread by frozen foods.
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 threatened evictions fueled protests and clashes in the runup to last month's 11-day Gaza war and pose a test for Israel's new governing coalition, which includes three pro-settler parties but is hoping to sideline the Palestinian issue to avoid internal divisions.
Since the army seized power on Feb. 1 and removed the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, the security forces have put down protests opposing military rule.
As it continued with a declining trend of coronavirus infection, the country reported 1,167 deaths. This is the fifth consecutive day in the last two months when the toll has been below the 2,000-mark, data from the health ministry showed.