The WHO team has begun investigating the origin of the coronavirus in China, despite concerns that the Beijing government might try to block the embarrassing discovery.
Thirteen scientists arrived in Wuhan, China, on Thursday after months of discussions with President Xi Jinping’s government.
The team includes virologists and other experts from the United States, Australia, Germany, Japan, Britain, Russia, the Netherlands, Qatar and Vietnam.
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The team will observe the quarantine for two weeks – per protocol – but team members will begin working through video conferencing with Chinese experts. Two members from the starting team had to be in Singapore after receiving positive results for COVID-19, but they will follow up when they test negative.
Also possible for researchers is the Wuhan Institute of Virology in the city where the first outbreak occurred.In late 2019, one of China’s leading virus research laboratories created a genetic repository of the bat’s coronavirus. After the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Disease in 2003 (SARS).
The investigation began months after discussion and bureaucratic hurdles when China announced that some of its team members had not received valid visas.
“The government should be very transparent and cooperative,” said Shin-Ru Shih, director of Taiwan’s Chang Gung University’s Emerging Virus Infection Research Center.
Beijing has long resisted calls for an international investigation, rather than pushing back the theory that the virus had entered China from abroad.
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When Australia called for an independent investigation into the origin of the virus, Beijing responded with a blockade on Australian imports.
“WHO will have to conduct similar investigations elsewhere,” National Health Commission official Mi Feng said Wednesday.
Efforts to closely protect the information surrounding the virus and its origins may lead to delayed warnings about the spread and difficulties in establishing early testing capabilities.
The “scientific review” of the records and institutional safety measures will be “Daily activities,” said epidemiologist Mark Woolhouse at the University of Edinburgh. He said it depends on how much the Chinese authorities are willing to share information.
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“There is an essential element of trust here,” said Woolhouse.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.