WHO team arrives in Wuhan to search for pandemic origins

Katie Ramirez
January 14, 2021

But two members tested positive for IgM antibodies. They had been set to arrive earlier this month, and China's delay of their visit drew rare public criticism from the agency's chief.

The WHO team underwent both throat swabs and serum antibody tests at the airport, and will go through relevant quarantine procedures required under China's epidemic control measures before conducting field work.

The group left the airport terminal in Wuhan through a plastic quarantine tunnel marked "epidemic prevention passage" for worldwide arrivals and boarded a cordoned-off bus that was guarded by half a dozen security staff in full protective gear.

"When the World Health Organization team reaches Wuhan, Chinese experts will work closely with them to fulfill their job", Feng said.

Team members did not speak to reporters, although some waved and took pictures of the media from the bus as it departed.

"The experts will begin their work immediately during the 2 weeks quarantine protocol for worldwide travelers", the World Health Organization said Thursday.

Officials of the China's National Health Commission (NHC) told the media in Beijing on Wednesday that the WHO experts will communicate with Chinese medical experts by video conferencing during their quarantine period.

Authorities last week launched a mass testing drive and closed transport links, schools and shops in Hebei's capital city Shijiazhuang - the epicentre of the latest outbreak.

The novel coronavirus was first detected in the Chinese city more than a year ago, and has since spread to all corners of the globe, leaving more than 92 million people infected and more than 1.9 million dead, according to data compiled by John Hopkins University.

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After completing quarantine, the team will spend two weeks interviewing people from research institutes, hospitals and the seafood market in Wuhan where the new pathogen is believed to have emerged, Hung added.

But it added that the team of more than a dozen experts had been tested again during a stopover in Singapore.

The group would mainly stay in Wuhan, he said.

The WHO team's visit has become a bone of contention as Beijing, which questions the widely-held view about the virus' origins in Wuhan, delayed granting permission to it. But they later began to say they can not rule out the possibility that it was brought in from overseas because the virus has been detected in some imported foods.

A senior World Health Organization expert who leads the team, Peter Ben Embarek, told NHK before entering Wuhan that it is logical to think the virus originated in China.

Beijing has argued that although Wuhan is where the first cluster of cases was detected, it is not necessarily where the virus originated.

On the origin of the virus, researchers are fairly certain that it came to humans after developing in an animal, most likely bats.

"At this stage what I think we need is a very open mind when trying to step back into the events that led eventually to this pandemic", she told reporters.

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