Scientists from the World Health Organization (WHO) will travel to Wuhan in January to investigate the origins of Covid-19 after months of negotiations with China for access.
The international mission is expected to visit China during the first week of January to investigate the origins of the virus that triggered the coronavirus pandemic, WHO spokesman Hedinn Halldorsson confirmed.
A year after the start of the novel coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 1.6 million people and infected more than 73 million worldwide, the question of where the virus came from and how it was transmitted to humans for the first time remains a mystery.
Pictured: Workers in protective suits walk past Hankou Station in Wuhan, Hubei Province of China, in April 2020. Wuhan is believed to have been the location where the Covid-19 outbreak, which triggered the pandemic world, has started. The first case was reported on December 31, 2019
The United States, which accused China of hiding the extent of the epidemic, called for a “transparent” WHO-led investigation and criticized its conditions, which allowed Chinese scientists to make the first phase of preliminary research.
China reported the first cases of pneumonia of unknown cause in Wuhan, central China, to the WHO on December 31 and closed a so-called “wet market” where the new coronavirus is believed to have emerged.
Health ministers called on the WHO in May to identify the source of the virus and how it crossed the species barrier, and the United Nations health agency sent a preliminary team to Beijing in July to lay the groundwork of the international survey.
But so far, it’s unclear when the larger team of scientists might travel to China to begin epidemiological studies to try to identify the first human cases and their source of infection.
Now, a team of 12 to 15 international experts is finally preparing to travel to Wuhan to examine evidence, including human and animal samples collected by Chinese researchers, and to build on their initial studies.
Danish member Thea Fischer said the team would leave “just after New Years’ time” for a six-week mission, including two weeks in quarantine on arrival.
The international mission is expected to visit China during the first week of January to investigate the origins of the virus. The United States, which accused China of hiding the extent of the epidemic, called for a “transparent” investigation led by the WHO and criticized its conditions, which allowed Chinese scientists to make the first phase of preliminary research.
“Phase 1 was supposed to be over now, under the terms of reference, and we should see results. If that’s what we get when we come to China… that would be fantastic. Then we are already in phase 2, ”she told Reuters.
Keith Hamilton, an expert from the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) who will be attending, told reporters on Tuesday: “I expect the mission to take place very soon. “
WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said in an email response to the Reuters inquiry that the international team was working on logistical arrangements to get to China as quickly as possible. “We hope the team can travel in January,” he said.
A Western diplomat said the team was due to leave in early January, ahead of the opening of the WHO executive board on January 18, adding: “There is a lot of pressure on China and the WHO. “
Hamilton said a similar but not identical virus was identified in a horseshoe bat, indicating that it was first transmitted to an animal, or an intermediate host, before infecting humans .
“When we do animal surveillance it’s difficult, it’s a bit like looking for a needle in a haystack,” he said.
China reported the first cases of pneumonia of unknown cause in Wuhan, central China, to the WHO on December 31 and closed a so-called “wet market” where the new coronavirus is believed to have emerged. Pictured: A street vendor prepares steamed specialties in Wuhan
A woman wearing a face mask watches a cat carried in a backpack with a window in Wuhan. Chinese state media suggested the virus existed abroad before being discovered in Wuhan, citing its presence on imported frozen food packages and scientific articles claiming it circulated in Europe the year last
Peter Ben Embarek, WHO’s top animal disease expert, said last month the mission would like to ask market workers how they became infected with the virus.
“There is no indication that it would be artificial,” he added.
Chinese state media have suggested the virus existed overseas before it was discovered in Wuhan, citing its presence on imported frozen food packages and scientific articles claiming that it circulated in Europe last year.
Some Western countries have expressed concern about the delay in sending international experts.
A senior Western diplomat complained of a lack of transparency when experts were not on the ground speaking to clinicians and researchers or inspecting laboratory samples.
But another Western diplomat said the mission was “on a good footing” and that the WHO had to agree to China’s terms to guarantee access.
Pictured: Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO). Health ministers called on the WHO in May to identify the source of the virus and how it crossed the species barrier
Scientists initially believed the killer virus had passed from animals to humans at a market selling exotic animals for meat in the city of Wuhan, where the virus was first detected late last year.
But experts now believe the market may not have been the source of the outbreak, but rather a place where it has amplified.
It is widely believed that the virus originated in bats, but the intermediate animal host that transmitted it between bats and humans remains unknown.
In October, international experts had their first meeting with their Chinese counterparts, but only virtually.