WUHAN (CHINA) – As China battles a new wave of COVID infection in it’s northeastern regions, an international team of scientists led by the World Health Organization landed in the central city of Wuhan on Thursday. The team aims to investigate the origins of the novel coronavirus that sparked the pandemic.
The group arrived from Singapore and is expected to observe a two week quarantine. They were to arrive earlier this month. China’s delay in giving the team a green signal was criticised by the WHO chief.
The team left the airport terminal through a plastic quarantine tunnel marked “epidemic prevention passage” for international arrivals and boarded a cordoned-off bus that was heavily guarded by security staff in full protective gear.
Peter Ben Embarek, the WHO’s top expert on animal diseases that cross to other species, who went to China on a preliminary mission last July, is leading the 10 independent experts, a WHO spokesman said.
Hung Nguyen, a Vietnamese biologist who is part of the team,told media that he did not expect any restrictions on the group’s work in China, but cautioned the team might not find clear answers.
The team which will mainly stay in Vietnam, will spend two weeks interviewing people from research institutes, hospitals and the seafood market in Wuhan where the new pathogen is believed to have emerged, Hung added.
“What we would like to do with the international team and counterparts in China is to go back in the Wuhan environment, re-interview in-depth the initial cases, try to find other cases that were not detected at that time and try to see if we can push back the history of the first cases,” Ben Embarek said in November.
“We are looking for the answers here that may save us in future – not culprits and not people to blame,” the WHO’s top emergency expert, Mike Ryan, told reporters this week, adding that the WHO was willing to go “anywhere and everywhere” to find out how the virus emerged.
Team member Marion Koopmans, a virologist at Erasmus University Medical Center in the Netherlands, said last month it was too early to say whether the SARS-CoV-2 virus had jumped directly from bats to humans or had an intermediate animal host.
“At this stage what I think we need is a very open mind when trying to step back into the events that led eventually to this pandemic,” she told reporters.