China-WHO joint expert team visits Wuhan and Hubei CDCs

Clay Curtis
February 2, 2021

After a two-week quarantine, the real work can begin.

Peter Ben Embarek, a member of the World Health Organization (WHO) team tasked with investigating the origins of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) visits Huanan seafood market in Wuhan, Hubei province, China January 31, 2021.

The visit has been shrouded in secrecy: The WHO tweeted a few details of what they will do, but it's unknown how much access China will give the researchers to the sites they want to visit and the people they want to talk to. Later, the novel coronavirus was identified. They have also visited a seafood market where early coronavirus cases were found and hospitals where the first patients were treated.

The WHO team members and Chinese officials earlier had their first in-person meetings at a hotel ahead of field visits in and around the central city of Wuhan in the coming days. It said the team had already requested "detailed underlying data" and planned to speak with early responders and some of the first patients.

They also listed the Wuhan Institute of Virology and laboratories at facilities including the Wuhan Center for Disease Control.

- South Korea says it will maintain elevated social distancing measures for at least two more weeks as health officials raise concerns about a possible surge in coronavirus infections surrounding the Lunar New Year holidays.

Its scientists were manipulating coronaviruses sampled from bats in caves almost 1,000 miles away, where Covid-19 is suspected to have originated.

Genetic sequencing shows the new coronavirus started in bats and likely jumped to another animal before infecting humans.

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The Associated Press, Reuters and VOA News reported on this story.

Public access to the market has been restricted since the authorities closed it at the beginning of previous year.

The origins of the virus have become highly politicised, and some Chinese diplomats and state media have thrown support behind theories that the virus potentially originated in another country. The market has since been largely ruled out but it could provide hints to how the virus spread so widely.

"(We hope to) understand the setting, see the places where cases were linked, reconstruct the initial event there, search for records of animals, products traded there.

The first clusters of COVID-19 were detected in Wuhan in late 2019.

They went to the Hubei Provincial Center for Disease Control and its Wuhan city office to find clues about the pandemic, amid strict Chinese controls on accessing virus-related information. A government spokesperson has said the origins hunt will require work beyond China's borders, including in bat habitats in Southeast Asian nations. He dismissed critics who said any report from the mission would be incomplete and said the team "deserves the support of the worldwide community".

It could take years of research, including taking animal samples, genetic analysis and epidemiological studies.

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