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WHO investigators to head to China to study COVID-19 origins

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How a lot entry the workforce can have, and whether or not the go to comes too late, has change into a degree of rivalry.

A workforce of worldwide investigators led by the World Health Organization (WHO) is probably going to go to China in early January to study the origins of the COVID-19 outbreak, which first started in Wuhan, in southwestern Hubei province, late final yr.

WHO officers mentioned on Thursday the composition of the workforce and the place they’d go to was being mentioned with China. Babatunde Olowokure, the WHO’s regional emergencies director within the Western Pacific, mentioned at a press convention that China was “welcoming” the workforce and the go to was possible to occur in early January. How a lot entry the workforce can have, and whether or not the go to comes too late, has change into a degree of rivalry. China has resisted requires an impartial worldwide inquiry into the origins however has mentioned it might be open to a WHO-led investigation even because the organisation has come below fireplace, notably from the U.S., over its dealing with of the outbreak within the preliminary levels.

A workforce of 12-15 consultants will possible go to Wuhan “to examine evidence, including human and animal samples collected by Chinese researchers, and to build on their initial studies”, Reuters reported. Thea Fischer, a Danish member, was quoted as saying the workforce would depart “just after New Year’s” for a six-week mission, which would come with two weeks of quarantine on arrival. Initial consideration into the origins of COVID-19 had targeted on the Huanan seafood market in Wuhan, the place an outbreak was first reported in December, though some Chinese well being officers have since mentioned the market might haven’t been the origin, however the place the virus first unfold.

Focus on market

The WHO investigation will possible focus available on the market in an effort to reconstruct the outbreak, the South China Morning Post reported this week, noting that China had “released sparse details” about its research into the market. Most scientists imagine the SARS-CoV-2 virus, comparable to the primary SARS outbreak, possible got here from a bat and handed to people through an middleman host. Whether that was one of many stay animals bought on the market is among the many points the investigation will look into.

The WHO investigation, though at an early stage, has already change into politicised, with China resisting what it sees as any exterior interference, in search of to stay in management over how a lot entry worldwide scientists can have, and officers and State media there more and more backing a story suggesting the virus got here to China from elsewhere. The U.S. and several other different international locations, in the meantime, have criticised the WHO’s dealing with and known as for extra transparency and independence into the investigations.

The report from the primary WHO-China Joint Mission on COVID-19, which adopted a go to by 25 Chinese and worldwide consultants to a number of Chinese cities between February 16 and 24, praised China’s preliminary dealing with of the outbreak and the lockdown of Hubei province for controlling the unfold of the virus. The WHO mission report was extensively cited by the Chinese media as underlining the success of the nation’s response.

The mission to China adopted a go to by the WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to Beijing, who in a January 28 assembly with President Xi Jinping “praised the seriousness with which China is taking this outbreak, especially the commitment from top leadership, and the transparency they have demonstrated”.

Initial cover-up

Neither talked about the preliminary cover-up by Wuhan authorities till mid-January, which resulted within the Communist Party management in February sacking the Party chiefs of each Hubei and Wuhan, in addition to two senior provincial well being officers. That element has, nonetheless, now change into a footnote, with State media, forward of the WHO workforce’s go to, more and more emphasising China’s subsequent restoration, showcasing its efficient response to stem the outbreak, and questioning the origins of COVID-19.

On Thursday, the Party-run Global Times revealed an article questioning whether or not the virus got here to Wuhan from abroad, citing latest native circumstances in China associated to imported seafood and meat merchandise. “As the mounting sporadic outbreaks in China were found to be related to imported cold-chain products, with other parts of the world, including Europe and the American continent, reportedly discovering signs of the coronavirus earlier than Wuhan, it begs a new hypothesis: did the early outbreak in Wuhan originate from imported frozen food?” the newspaper requested. China has in latest weeks stopped sure meals imports, which it has blamed for brand spanking new circumstances which have been reported even after native transmission had broadly been curbed by the top of the summer time.

Chinese scientists have additionally put ahead research suggesting the virus was circulating in different international locations, reminiscent of Italy, earlier than it got here to China. One latest pre-print even prompt the primary human transmission happened on the Indian subcontinent, nevertheless it was subsequently withdrawn.

That isn’t, nonetheless, the view of most worldwide consultants. Last month, Michael Ryan, the Executive Director of the WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme, mentioned it might be “highly speculative” for the WHO “to say that the disease did not emerge in China”. “It is clear from a public health perspective that you start your investigations where the human cases first emerged,” he mentioned, including that proof might lead them elsewhere.

These remarks from the WHO didn’t, nonetheless, discover extensive point out within the Chinese media.

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