WHO team in Wuhan departs quarantine for COVID origins study
A World Health Organization team has emerged from quarantine in the Chinese city of Wuhan to start field work in a fact-finding mission on the origins of the virus that caused the COVID-19 pandemic
WUHAN, China -- A World Health Organization team emerged from quarantine in the Chinese city of Wuhan on Thursday to start field work in a fact-finding mission on the origins of the virus that caused the COVID-19 pandemic.
The researchers, who were required to isolate for 14 days after arriving in China, left their quarantine hotel with their luggage — including at least four yoga mats — in the midafternoon and headed to another hotel.
The mission has become politically charged, as China seeks to avoid blame for alleged missteps in its early response to the outbreak. A major question is where the Chinese side will allow the researchers to go and whom they will be able to talk to.
Yellow barriers blocked the entrance to the hotel, keeping the media at a distance. Before the researchers boarded their bus, workers wearing protective outfits and face shields could be seen loading their luggage, including two musical instruments and a dumbbell.
Hotel staff waved goodbye to the researchers, who were wearing face masks. The bus driver wore a full-body white protective suit. They drove about 30 minutes to a lakeside Hilton resort-like hotel.
Former WHO official Keiji Fukuda, who is not part of the team in Wuhan, has cautioned against expecting any breakthroughs, saying it may take years before any firm conclusions can be made about the virus’s origin.
“This is now well over a year past when it all started," he said earlier this month. "So much of the physical evidence is going to be gone. The memories of people are imprecise and probably the physical layouts of many places are going to be different than they were.”
Among the places they might visit are the Huanan Seafood Market, which was linked to many of the first cases, as well as research institutes and hospitals that treated patients at the height of the outbreak.
WHO, which is based in Geneva, Switzerland, said late Thursday on Twitter that its team plans to visit hospitals, markets like the Huanan Seafood Market linked to many of the first cases, the Wuhan Institute of Virology, and laboratories at facilities like the Wuhan Center for Disease Control.
“All hypotheses are on the table as the team follows the science in their work to understand the origins of the COVID19 virus,” WHO tweeted. It said the team had already requested “detailed underlying data" and planned to speak with early responders and some of the first COVID-19 patients.
“As members start their field visits on Friday, they should receive the support, access and the data they need,” WHO tweeted. The first face-to-face meetings with Chinese scientists are set to take place on Friday, before the team starts the field visits in and around Wuhan, it said.
One possible source of the virus is bats in caves in rural Yunnan province, about 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles) southwest of Wuhan.
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said the experts would have talks, visits and inspections in China to carry out virus-tracing exchanges and cooperation. He did not provide any details.
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