A team of experts led by the World Health Organization investigating the origins of COVID-19 visited Huanan Market, the now closed seafood wholesale market in the Chinese city of Wuhan where the novel coronavirus has spread. was initially detected.
The team arrived in Huanan on Sunday amidst heightened security, with additional barricades erected outside a tall blue fence surrounding the market, and left in convoy after about an hour.
“Visits to very important sites today – a wholesale market first and Huanan Seafood Market earlier,” said Peter Daszak, zoologist with the US EcoHealth Alliance group and member of the WHO team, in a tweet.
“Very informative and essential for our joint teams to understand the epidemiology of COVID as it began to spread at the end of 2019.”
Experts did not respond to journalists’ questions. One of them flashed a sign indicating that reporters were asking how the trip was going.
Years of research
Since being released from a two-week quarantine on Thursday, the team has visited hospitals and markets, as well as an exhibit commemorating the COVID battle in Wuhan, which included a 76-day lockdown of the city of 11 million people. .
A single visit from scientists is unlikely to confirm the origins of the virus. Determining the animal reservoir of an epidemic is usually a comprehensive endeavor that requires years of research, including the collection of animal samples, genetic analyzes, and epidemiological studies.
One possibility is that a wildlife poacher may have transmitted the virus to traders who transported him to Wuhan.
WHO, which has sought to manage expectations for the mission, said on Friday team members would be limited to visits organized by their Chinese hosts and would have no contact with community members due to restrictions. sanitary facilities.
No full itinerary for the team’s two-week fieldwork was announced, and reporters covering the tightly-controlled visit were kept away from team members.
Tracing the origins
Public access to Huanan’s vast seafood wholesale market has been restricted since it closed early last year.
Before it closed, the market was packed with hundreds of stalls divided into sections for meat, seafood and vegetables.
Today, it serves as a landmark in a traumatized city as the original epicenter of what has become a global pandemic.
On December 31, 2019, after four cases of mysterious pneumonia were linked to the market, it was shut down overnight. By the end of January, Wuhan had entered a 76-day lockdown.
Experts say the Huanan market still plays a role in finding the origins of the virus, since the first cluster of cases were identified there.
The WHO-led investigation in Wuhan has been plagued by delays, concerns over access and feuds between China and the United States, which have accused China of hiding the extent of the outbreak initial and criticized the conditions of the visit, in connection with which Chinese experts the first phase of research.
The origins of the virus have become highly politicized, and some Chinese diplomats and state media have supported theories that the virus could potentially originate in another country.
The team was due to arrive in Wuhan earlier in January, and the delay in China’s visit drew rare public criticism from the WHO chief, whom then-US President Donald Trump accused to be “China-centric”.