A team of experts from the World Health Organization arrived in Wuhan on Thursday to launch a highly politicized investigation into the origins of the coronavirus, as China reported its first death from Covid-19 in eight months.
The 10 scientists, who are due to complete a two-week quarantine in Wuhan before starting their work, have arrived for their much-delayed mission to examine the origins of the pandemic.
The virus was first detected in the city of Wuhan, central China, in late 2019 and has since spread around the world, killing nearly two million people so far, infecting dozens millions of people and gutting the global economy.
State television station CGTN showed that the plane carrying the team was arriving from Singapore to be greeted by Chinese officials in full suits of hazardous materials.
Their trip comes as more than 20 million people are stranded in northern China and a province has declared an emergency, with the number of Covid-19s rising after several months of relatively static droop.
China had largely brought the pandemic under control through strict lockdowns and mass testing, hailing its economic rebound as an indication of the strong leadership of the Communist authorities.
But 138 more infections were reported Thursday by the National Health Commission – the highest tally since March of last year.
The clusters are still small compared to many countries struggling with rampant infections and a record number of deaths, and the first virus death in several months – reported in northern Hebei Province – has raised alarms across the board. China.
Beijing is eager to wipe out local clusters ahead of next month’s Lunar New Year festival, as hundreds of millions of people move across the country.
Health officials have given no details of the latest death, except that it occurred in Hebei province, where the government has locked several towns.
As infections spread, northeast Heilongjiang declared a “state of emergency” on Wednesday, telling its 37.5 million people not to leave the province unless absolutely necessary.
As news of the latest death emerged on Thursday, the hashtag “New dead virus in Hebei” quickly increased by 100 million views on Chinese social media platform Weibo.
“I haven’t seen the words ‘viral death’ for so long, it’s a little shocking! Hope the outbreak can pass soon,” wrote one user.
No deaths have been reported in mainland China since May last year, with the official death toll now standing at 4,635.
– Arrival of WHO –
The latest death comes as China prepares for the scrutiny that the arrival of the WHO expert team of scientists will bring.
Mission team leader Peter Ben Embarek said the group would start with a mandatory hotel quarantine due to Chinese immigration requirements.
“And then after the two weeks, we could come and meet our Chinese counterparts in person and go to the different sites that we would like to visit,” he said.
He warned that “it could be a very long journey before we fully understand what happened.”
Beijing has argued that although Wuhan is where the first cluster of cases was detected, it is not necessarily the origin of the virus.
“I don’t think we will have clear answers after this initial mission, but we will be on our way,” Embarek added.
“The idea is to advance a number of studies that were already designed and decided on a few months ago to allow us to better understand what happened,” he said.
The long-delayed WHO trip comes more than a year after the start of the pandemic and has sparked political tensions over claims Beijing tried to thwart the project.
(Except for the title, this story was not edited by The Bharat Express News staff and is posted Platforms.)