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WHO scientists arrive in Wuhan to investigate the origin of the coronavirus pandemic



Despite fears that the Beijing government might try to prevent any embarrassing discoveries, a World Health Organization team has begun an investigation into the origin of the Chinese coronavirus.

After months of discussions with the government of President Xi Jinping, 13 scientists arrived in Wuhan, China on Thursday.

The team includes virologists and other experts from the United States, Australia, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom, Russia, the Netherlands, Qatar and Vietnam.

On Thursday, January 14, 2021, a worker in protective clothing instructed members of the World Health Organization team to arrive at the airport in Wuhan, Hubei Province, central China. Unsure whether Beijing will try to prevent embarrassing discoveries, the organization was discovered for the first time conducting a politically sensitive investigation of its origins.  (AP Photo/Wu Hanguan)

On Thursday, January 14, 2021, a worker in protective clothing instructed members of the World Health Organization team to arrive at the airport in Wuhan, Hubei Province, central China. Unsure whether Beijing will try to prevent embarrassing discoveries, the organization was discovered for the first time conducting a politically sensitive investigation of its origins. (AP Photo/Wu Hanguan)

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According to the agreement, the team will undergo a two-week quarantine, but the team members will begin work through video conferences with Chinese experts. Initially, two members of the team must also stay in Singapore after testing positive for COVID-19, but once they test negative, they will continue to follow Singapore.

It may be that the location of the researchers’ attention is the Wuhan Institute of Virology in the city. The epidemic first appeared at the end of 2019. One of the largest virus research laboratories in China, it has established the bat coronavirus genetic information file after the severe acute respiratory syndrome outbreak in 2003. (SARS).

After months of discussions and further bureaucratic obstacles, China announced that some members of the team had not obtained valid visas before the investigation began.

On Thursday, January 14, 2021, passengers departing from Singapore will be handled by staff wearing protective clothing and heading toward the covered walkway to another exit of the Wuhan Airport Terminal in Hubei Province, China. The WHO team arrived in Wuhan on Thursday to study the origin of the coronavirus.  (AP Photo/Wu Hanguan)

On Thursday, January 14, 2021, passengers departing from Singapore will be handled by staff wearing protective clothing and heading toward a covered walkway to another exit of the Wuhan Airport Terminal in Hubei Province, China. The WHO team arrived in Wuhan on Thursday to study the origin of the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Wu Hanguan)

Shi Xinru, director of the Center for Emerging Virus Infection Research at Chang Gung University, Taiwan, said: “The government should be very transparent and cooperative.”

Beijing has long refused requests for international investigations and instead put forward incidental theories about the virus entering China from abroad.

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Members of the World Health Organization team arrived at the airport in Wuhan, Hubei Province, central China, on Thursday, January 14, 2021. A team of global researchers arrived in a Chinese city on Thursday, where the coronavirus pandemic was first discovered to be politically sensitive. Investigating its origins while not sure whether Beijing will try to prevent embarrassing discoveries.  (AP Photo/Wu Hanguan)

Members of the World Health Organization team arrived at the airport in Wuhan, Hubei Province, central China, on Thursday, January 14, 2021. A team of global researchers arrived in a Chinese city on Thursday, where the coronavirus pandemic was first discovered to be politically sensitive. Investigating its origins while not sure whether Beijing will try to prevent embarrassing discoveries. (AP Photo/Wu Hanguan)

When Australia requested an independent investigation into the source of the virus, Beijing took retaliatory action and blocked imports of Australian goods.

National Health Commission official Mi Feng said on Wednesday: “WHO will need to conduct similar investigations elsewhere.”

Efforts to tightly protect information about the virus and its source may result in delays in warnings of the pandemic and difficulties in establishing early testing capabilities.

Mark Woolhouse, an epidemiologist at the University of Edinburgh, said that a “scientific review” of the institute’s records and safety measures would be a “routine activity.” He said it depends on how the Chinese authorities are willing to share information.

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Woolhouse said: “There is a lot of trust here.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.




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