An international team of scientists led by the World Health Organization arrived in the central city of Wuhan in China on Thursday to investigate the origins of the new coronavirus that triggered the pandemic.
The group arrived late in the morning on a low-cost airline from Singapore and were due to head into a two-week quarantine. They were due to arrive earlier this month and the delay in their visit by China has drawn rare public criticism from the agency 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 guarded by half a dozen or so. security guards in full protective gear.
Team members did not speak to reporters, although some waved and took media photos from the bus as it left.
The United States, which accused China of hiding the extent of its initial outbreak a year ago, called for a “transparent” WHO-led investigation and criticized the conditions of the visit, as part of which Chinese experts carried out the first phase of research. .
The team arrived as China battled a resurgence of cases in its northeast after months of succeeding in nearly eradicating domestic infections.
Peter Ben Embarek, WHO’s leading expert on animal diseases that transmit to other species, who visited China on a preliminary mission last July, is leading the 10 independent experts, a door said. -Who speaks.
Hung Nguyen, a Vietnamese biologist who is part of the team, told Reuters he did not expect any restrictions on the group’s work in China, but warned the team may not come up with clear answers .
After completing the quarantine, the team will spend two weeks interviewing people from research institutes, hospitals and the Wuhan seafood market, where the new pathogen is believed to have emerged, Hung added.
The team would mainly stay in Wuhan, he told Reuters in an interview on Wednesday during a stopover in Singapore.
Last week, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Gheybreyesus said he was “very disappointed” that China still has not allowed the team’s entry for the long-awaited mission, but on Monday it welcomed the announcement of their planned arrival.
China says virus existed abroad before Wuhan
“What we would like to do with the international team and the counterparts in China is go back to the environment of Wuhan, re-examine the original cases in depth, try to find other cases that were not detected in that time and try to see if we can push back the story of the first cases, ”Ben Embarek said in November.
China released a story to state media that the virus existed overseas before it was discovered in Wuhan, citing the presence of the virus on imported frozen food packages and scientific articles claiming it had circulated in Europe in 2019.
“We are looking here for the answers that could save us in the future – not the culprits or the people to blame,” Mike Ryan, WHO’s top emergency specialist, told reporters this week, adding that the WHO was ready to go “anywhere and everywhere” to find out how the virus came about.
Marion Koopmans, team member, 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 passed directly from bats to the human or had an intermediate animal host.
“At this point, I think we need a very open mind when we try to look back at the events that ultimately led to this pandemic,” she told reporters.