Experts are starting their investigation into the origins of the coronavirus in the city where the first cases were reported.
A team of experts from the World Health Organization are set to begin field research into the origins of the coronavirus in Wuhan, where COVID-19 was first recorded at the end of 2019, after completing two compulsory hotel quarantine weeks.
The team is expected to visit the Huanan Market where the first people fell ill with the virus, as well as the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a nearby medical laboratory. They will also try to find out if the virus is from a bat, like the more deadly Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) which has been traced in a cave in China’s Yunnan Province.
WHO has stressed that the investigation, which has been going on for months, is not about attributing blame, but about understanding how the virus made the jump to humans and finding ways to prevent the emergence of agents. similar pathogens.
“As the pandemic continues to unfold, understanding how the epidemic began is critical to preventing further introductions of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and helping prevent the introduction of new viruses in the future,” said declared the team. Terms of reference said.
Katrina Yu of Al Jazeera was outside the hotel in Wuhan to speak to some of the team, including Dutch virologist Marion Koopmans.
“His main message was, ‘This is going to take a while, so be patient,’ Yu said.
As COVID has spread over the past year, flooding countries far beyond China and claiming more than 2 million lives and devastated economies, the pandemic has become increasingly politicized. Former US President Donald Trump has blamed China for the outbreak, while the Chinese Communist Party has sought to reframe the narrative surrounding it, silencing critics and introducing the idea that the virus may have come from China. outside of China.
The Huanan Market – cleaned and disinfected long ago, and now closed – will be a key part of their stay in the city. Many of the early cases of what was then a new ‘mysterious’ respiratory disease among town residents suggested a connection to the market, which sold seafood but also a wide range of other live animals, including the exotic fauna.
After two weeks of phone discussions, they will visit the site themselves to try to assess the role the market played in the outbreak. The lab is also on their route.
Some family members of those who died in the city have urged investigators to speak to them, but there is no clear indication that they will be able to do so.
Peter Daszak, who is part of the team, told NBC News this week that the team had received new data from China. Koopmans, meanwhile, told Al Jazeera she was “quite optimistic” about their work.
As China has successfully quelled the outbreak in Wuhan with a strict lockdown and mass testing, it once again finds itself facing new pockets of disease just days before the Lunar New Year, the country’s most important holiday. and when tens of millions of people typically return home. to see their families.
This year, authorities are encouraging people to stay put by offering special bonuses to those who continue to work and refunds on tickets already purchased. Bookings are said to have declined by 40%, Yu said.