WUHAN, CHINA (AP) – A WHO international research team that arrived in central China’s Wuhan city on Thursday hopes to find clues to the origins of the COVID-19 epidemic.
The visit was shrouded in secrecy, and neither China nor the WHO have revealed exactly what the team will do or where it will go. Tracing the origin is likely to be a long-term effort that can help prevent future epidemics.
The industrial and transportation center of the Yangtze River is the first place where the coronavirus surfaced in the world. It is possible that the virus arrived in Wuhan unnoticed from elsewhere, but the city of 11 million is a logical place to start the mission.
People started to get sick in December 2019, many are related to the expanding food market for live animals. An increasing number of patients triggered alerts that prompted the Chinese Center for Disease Prevention and Control to send a team for investigation.
The disease would devastate Wuhan before it was brought under control in March. The city was shut down on January 23, with little or no warning. The hardships endured and the lives lost became a source of both sadness and pride for the residents after the 76-day closure was lifted on April 76th.
WHAT IS THE TEAM’S AGENDA?
They must first be quarantined for 14 days, during which they work with Chinese partners via video conferencing. Possible post-quarantine visits include the Huanan Seafood Market, the December 2019 case group cluster site, and the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
Scientists initially suspected the virus came from wild animals sold on the market. The market has since been largely foreclosed, but it may provide hints of such a widespread spread of the virus. Samples of the market are still available, as well as testimony from early responders.
The Wuhan Institute of Virology maintains an extensive archive of the genetic sequences of bat coronaviruses built in the wake of the 2003 SARS epidemic, which have spread from China to many countries. Members of the WHO team hope to have access to laboratory logs and data, as well as safety protocols for both young and senior researchers, as well as sample collection, storage, and analysis.
WHY THE SECRET?
China has firmly rejected calls for an independent external inquiry. The head of the WHO recently expressed his impatience about how long it took China to take the necessary steps to visit the expert group.
The ruling Communist Party holds the information closely and is particularly concerned about possible revelations about the handling of the virus, which could open up to international criticism and financial demands.
China has stifled independent reports of the outbreak and published little information on tracing the origin of the virus. AP examination found that the government has strictly controlled all scientific research into the outbreak and banned researchers from speaking to the press.
The state media continues to play reports suggesting the virus may have originated elsewhere. When announcing the experts’ visit, Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said that “tracing the origin of the virus is likely to affect more countries and municipalities.”