More than a year after the new coronavirus first appeared in China, a team of experts from the World Health Organization finally arrived in Wuhan on Thursday and began to search for its source.
The investigation by a team of 10 scientists is a key step in understanding how the virus jumped from animals to humans, so that another pandemic can be avoided. Getting the answer is likely to be difficult.
As we all know, the Chinese government is wary of outside censorship, but it has repeatedly hindered the team’s arrival and investigation. Even in the best case, a complete query can take months or even longer. The team must also deal with China̵
This is the main point of the investigation.
China has set up barriers and pushed for control.
Visa delays. Isolation rules. Political barriers.
Chinese officials seem to worry about renewing attention to China’s early mistakes in responding to the pandemic. Over the past year, Chinese officials have adopted various strategies to hinder WHO’s investigations.
After resisting requests from other countries to allow independent investigators to study the origin of pathogens in its soil, China finally allowed two WHO experts to visit in July to lay the foundation. It then quickly isolated the group for 14 days, forcing its members to carry out some detective work remotely.
They were barred from visiting Wuhan, where the virus first appeared.
For months, China has postponed the approval of the entire panel of experts, which frustrated the leaders of the Health Bureau. According to the health agency, when the visit appeared to be completed earlier this month, it broke down at the last moment when Beijing failed to provide visas for tourists. Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization, issued a rare condemnation to Beijing at a press conference, saying he was “very disappointed” by the delay.
The Chinese government has asked Chinese scientists to supervise important parts of the investigation. It limits access to important research and data by global health agencies. The entire WHO team will be required to undergo a two-week quarantine in Wuhan before the investigation can begin.
Critics say Beijing’s desire for control means that the investigation is most likely political rather than scientific.
“You hope this investigation is thorough, free from political influence, independent and transparent,” said Huang Yanzhong, senior researcher of global health at the Council on Foreign Relations. “But we must be realistic.”
Despite the trouble, the WHO stated that it intends to conduct rigorous and transparent research.
The agency’s spokesperson Tarik Jašarević said in a statement: “WHO has been committed to investigating the origin of the virus from the very beginning.” “We ask all countries to demonstrate openness and transparency. To support these efforts.”
Tracking the virus will be a daunting task.
According to a report by the official broadcaster CGTN, the team arriving in Wuhan will face a city that has undergone a fundamental transformation since the virus first appeared in late 2019. The city entered a lockdown on January 23 last year and became a symbol of the virus. A year later, Chinese officials prevented the disaster as a success story for defeating the virus-a city reborn.
WHO experts have decades of experience, in-depth research on viruses, animal health and disease control. They come from Britain, Germany, Japan, Russia, the United States and other countries. Team members include Peter Daszak, a British disease ecologist, and Hung Nguyen, a Vietnamese scientist who studies zoonotic diseases.
However, it will be difficult to trace the source of the virus that has so far killed nearly 2 million people worldwide and infected more than 92 million people. Although experts believe that the virus originated naturally in animals (probably bats), it is little known.
The team is expected to examine the earliest reported cases of the virus in China, most likely to carefully study sample data collected on a vast wet market in Wuhan, which sells game and live animals. Many of the first reported infections were found here.
Public health experts say that how many visits the team gets in China is crucial.
They should be able to review all the data about the outbreak collected by the Chinese Center for Disease Control, “including contact tracing, environmental sampling, genetic sequence and identification of patient zero,” said Raina MacIntyre, head of the Kirby Institute’s biosafety program. Student at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. “The important thing is to do this fully and transparently.”
The Health Bureau did not say how long the investigation will take, nor did it release a detailed itinerary for the team to visit.
Marion Koopmans, a Dutch virologist on the WHO team, said the investigation is a “long-term project.”
In an interview with China International Broadcasting Corporation CGTN, she said: “We will put together all the scientific information that our colleagues in China have collected, and discuss’How does this help us?”. “Is there any information we want to add? What should I do?”
The team will have to avoid attempts to politicize its query.
The pandemic has damaged China’s reputation, and many foreign governments are still angry that Beijing did not take more measures to contain the crisis in the early stages. Therefore, Chinese propagandists are trying to use the World Health Organization survey to consolidate China’s image and portray the country as a mature superpower.
The official news agency Xinhua said in a comment on Wednesday: “China is open, frank and sincere.”
The WHO itself has also been attacked by the Trump administration for appearing to succumb to China’s wishes, even though the United States has been criticized for its ineffective response to the pandemic. Before the convoy landed, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Twitter on Tuesday: “@WHO was corrupt due to China’s influence and was bought cheaply. WHO investigators still cannot enter Wuhan-in reporting the first case One year after the case?”
On the same day, the state-run tabloid Global Times wrote that the upcoming visit shows that China “has been committed to contributing to the global fight against epidemics with a transparent, responsible attitude and respectful spirit. Science.”
The Chinese government tried to push away the unfounded arguments, believing that the virus emerged outside China. Chinese scientists have hinted that there is no evidence that packaged foods from overseas may bring the virus into China, or it may be that India has begun a pandemic.
Experts say that the fierce political atmosphere will make it difficult for WHO to conduct independent investigations.
Mr. Huang, a global health expert, said: “The main concern here is that the source of the outbreak has been politicized.” “This really reduces the space for WHO to conduct independent, objective and scientific investigations.”
Albee Zhang and Claire Fu contributed research.