WHO team to begin face-to-face meetings with Chinese experts
World Health Organization experts will begin face-to-face meetings with their Chinese counterparts on Friday in the central city of Wuhan at the start of the team's long-awaited fact-finding mission into the origins of the coronavirus. The meetings will be followed by the first field visits in and around the industrial and transport hub, WHO said on Twitter with no further details.
WHO team plans to speak with first responders and patients
WHO said the team had already requested detailed underlying data and plans to speak with some of the first COVID-19 patients. "All hypotheses are on the table as the team follows the science in their work to understand the origins of the virus," WHO tweeted.
WHO provided details in the following tweet
The international team working to understand the origins of the #COVID19 virus completed its 2-week quarantine in Wuhan, #China on Thursday. As members start their field visits on Friday, they should receive the support, access and the data they need.— World Health Organization (WHO) (@WHO) January 28, 2021
Meetings to commence today after two-week quarantine
The team members had spent the past two weeks in a required quarantine, during which they had been communicating with Chinese officials by video conferences to lay the groundwork for field visits. At their new hotel, some were seen waving from balconies, and people arriving aboard three buses went inside, possibly to join the preliminary meeting between WHO and Chinese scientists.
China wants to avoid any allegations regarding the outbreak
WHO said late Thursday 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. Meanwhile, the mission has become politically charged as China seeks to avoid blame for alleged missteps in its early response to the outbreak.
China has been promoting baseless theories about COVID-19 origin
Confirmation of the origins of the virus is likely to take years; pinning down an outbreak's animal reservoir typically requires exhaustive research. One possibility being floated is that a wildlife poacher passed the virus to traders who carried it to Wuhan, or that the outbreak started with imports of frozen seafood tainted with the virus, a notion roundly rejected by international scientists and agencies.
WHO team is especially focused on Wuhan Institute of Virology
A possible focus for investigators is the Wuhan Institute of Virology in the city where the outbreak began. One of China's top virus research labs, it built an archive of genetic information about bat coronavirus after the 2003 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.
China is continuously registering a decline in COVID-19 cases
Notably, new cases of local transmission in China continue to fall with just 36 announced on Friday, even as the annual Lunar New Year travel push gets underway. The northeastern province of Heilongjiang reported the largest number of new cases, 21, over the past 24 hours, followed by Jilin province. The capital Beijing and its surrounding province of Hebei reported one new case each.