Peter Daszak and Hung Nguyen-Viet, members of the WHO team walk at a park of their hotel in Wuhan, Hubei province, China. File/Reuters
Members of a World Health Organization-led team looking for clues about the origins of COVID-19 will hold a briefing on Tuesday after nearly a month of meetings and site visits in the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the disease was first identified.
The WHO said the briefing was scheduled for 4.00pm local time (0800 GMT) on Tuesday afternoon, and would also include experts from the Chinese side who have been involved in the investigation.
The team arrived in Wuhan on Jan.14 and after two weeks of quarantine, visited key sites like the Huanan seafood market, the location of the first known cluster of infections, as well as the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which has been involved in coronavirus research.
Members of the team have sought to rein in expectations about the mission, with zoologist Peter Daszak telling Reuters last week that one of their aims was to “identify the next steps to fill in the gaps.”
Another team member, infectious disease expert Dominic Dwyer, said it would probably take years to fully understand the origins of COVID-19.
The United States said China needed to be more open when it comes to sharing data and samples as well as allowing access to patients, medical staff and lab workers. Beijing subsequently accused Washington of politicizing a scientific mission.
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 group is expected to spend two more weeks in China, and will visit the seafood market at the centre of the early outbreak. It will also visit the Wuhan Institute of Virology. One hypothesis, rejected by China, is that the outbreak was caused by a leak at the government lab.
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.
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.
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