In January, scientists from the World Health Organization (WHO) will fly to Wuhan to investigate the source of Covid-19 after months of negotiating for access with China.
In the first week of January, the international mission is scheduled to go to China to investigate the source of the virus that caused the coronavirus pandemic, reported WHO spokesman Hedinn Halldorsson.
The question of where the virus came from and how it first crossed over to humans remains a mystery one year into the latest coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 1.6 million people and infected over 73 million worldwide.
The United States, which accused China of suppressing the nature of the outbreak, called for a WHO-led ‘transparent’ investigation and criticized its terms, allowing Chinese scientists to do the first phase of preliminary analysis.
On December 31, China announced the first cases of an unknown cause of pneumonia in Wuhan, central China, to the WHO and closed a so-called ‘wet market’ where it is suspected that the novel coronavirus has emerged.
In May, the Ministers of Health called for WHO to establish the origins of the virus and how it crossed the species barrier, and in July, the United Nations Health Agency sent an advance team to Beijing to lay the groundwork for the international investigation.
But until the larger team of scientists will travel to China to begin epidemiological studies to try to locate the first human cases and their source of infection, it will remain unknown.
Now a team of 12-15 international experts is finally planning to go to Wuhan to review the evidence and expand on their initial studies, including human and animal samples collected by Chinese researchers.
Thea Fischer, a Danish member, said the team will depart for a six-week mission ‘only after New Year’s,’ including two weeks of quarantine on arrival.
“Phase 1 was supposed to be completed by now, according to the terms of reference, and we should have some 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.
A Western diplomat said the team was scheduled to depart in early January, ahead of the opening of the WHO Executive Board on January 18, adding: “There is strong pressure on China and on WHO.”
Keith Hamilton, an expert at the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) who will take part, told reporters on Tuesday: “I anticipate the mission will take place quite soon.”
“When we are doing animal surveillance, it’s difficult, it’s rather like looking for a needle in a haystack,” he said.
Hamilton said that in a horseshoe bat, a similar but not identical virus was found, suggesting that it was first transmitted before infecting humans to an animal, or intermediate host.
The WHO’s senior expert on animal diseases, Peter Ben Embarek, said last month that the mission would like to interview market staff about how they became infected with the virus.
“There is nothing to indicate that it would be man-made,” he said.
Before it was identified in Wuhan, Chinese state media indicated the virus existed abroad, citing its existence in imported frozen food packaging and research papers saying it had spread in Europe last year.
The delay in sending foreign experts has prompted some Western countries to express concern.
One senior Western diplomat complained of a lack of accountability because specialists were not talking to doctors and researchers on the ground or examining samples from the laboratory.
But another Western diplomat said the mission was on a ‘good footing’ and that in order to gain entry, the WHO had to accept China’s terms.
Initially, scientists believed the killer virus transferred from animals to humans in the city of Wuhan, where the virus was first discovered late last year at a market selling exotic animals for meat.
But experts also suggest that the industry may not have been the cause of the outbreak, but rather a location where it has been exacerbated.
The virus originally came from bats is widely believed, but the intermediate animal host which transmitted it between bats and humans remains unknown.
Source: Daily Mail UK