WHO Investigators Visit Wuhan Institute of Virology in Attempts to Find Out COVID's Origin

By: Sashwata Saha
03 Feb 2021 11:49:50 PM China

Investigators from the World Health Organisation visited a research centre in the Chinese city of Wuhan, that has been the subject of speculation about the origins of the coronavirus, on Wednesday to meet key staff and press them on critical issues, the international news agency Associated Press reports.


The WHO team's visit to the Wuhan Institute of Virology was a highlight of its mission to collect information and search for clues as to where the virus originated and how it spread. “We're looking forward to meeting with all the key people here and asking all the important questions that need to be asked,” zoologist and team member Peter Daszak said, according to footage run by Japanese broadcaster TBS.


Journalists followed the team to a high-security facility, but as with all previous visits, this delegation, too, was given little direct access. A New York Times report reads: “Uniformed and plainclothes security guards stood to watch along the facility's gated front entrance, but there was no sign of the protective suits team members had donned Tuesday during a visit to an animal disease research centre. It was not clear what protective gear was worn inside the institute.”


The investigating team left after around three hours without speaking to waiting journalists.


Following two weeks in quarantine, the WHO team had, over the past week, visited research institutes hospitals and a traditional meat market linked to many of the initial cases. Their visit was preceded by months of negotiations as China seeks to restrict data regarding the outbreak and the investigation into the coronavirus’ origins. 


The Wuhan Institute of Virology, China's apex virus research lab, built an archive of genetic information about bat coronaviruses after the 2003 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). That has led to unproven allegations that it may have a link to the original outbreak of COVID-19 in Wuhan in late 2019.


China has strongly denied that possibility and has also promoted unproven alternatives that the virus may have originated in the Indian subcontinent or the West and that it may have been brought into the country from overseas with imports of seafood tainted with the virus. These theories have been rejected by international agencies.


Confirmation of the origins of the virus is likely to take years. Pinning down an outbreak's animal reservoir typically requires exhaustive research, including taking animal samples, genetic analysis and epidemiological studies. One possibility is that a wildlife poacher might have passed the virus to traders who carried it to Wuhan.


The first clusters of COVID-19 were detected in Wuhan in late 2019, eventually prompting the government to put the city under a strict lockdown. China has since reported over 89,000 cases and 4,600 deaths, with fresh cases largely reported from its northeast.


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