WUHAN, China (AP) – A team from the World Health Organization on Friday visited a hospital where China says the first patients with COVID-19 were treated more than a year ago as part of the long-awaited fact-finding mission of experts into the origins of the coronavirus.
WHO team members and Chinese officials previously had their first in-person meetings at a hotel ahead of field visits in and around the central city of Wuhan in the coming days.
“First face-to-face meeting with our colleagues. Correction: mask against mask given medical restrictions, “Dutch virologist Marion Koopmans tweeted in the morning.
She said they were discussing their visiting schedule and the Chinese team leader “prof. Wannian ”joked about some technical issues, an apparent reference to China’s top epidemiologist Liang Wannian, who led the China response team.
“Nice to see our colleagues after long Zoom meetings,” Koopman tweeted. The visiting researchers held video meetings during 14 days of quarantine after arriving in China. They were released from quarantine on Thursday.
The team members drove out of the hotel and, shortly after, walked through the gates of Hubei Provincial Integrated Chinese and Western Medicine Hospital. According to China’s official account of its response to the initial outbreak, Dr Zhang Jixian first reported cases of what was then known as “pneumonia of unknown origin” in hospital. December 27, 2019.
The WHO said earlier on Twitter that the team had requested “detailed underlying data” and planned to speak with first responders and some of the first COVID-19 patients. He also planned to visit markets such as the Huanan Seafood Market linked to many of the early cases, the Wuhan Institute of Virology, and laboratories at facilities such as the Wuhan Center for Disease Control.
The team’s mission has become politically charged, as China seeks to avoid blame for alleged missteps in its early response to the outbreak.
“All assumptions are on the table as the team follows science in its work to understand the origins of the COVID19 virus,” the WHO tweeted.
Confirming the origins of the virus is expected to take years. Identifying the animal source of an outbreak usually requires extensive research, including the collection of animal samples, genetic analysis, and epidemiological studies.
One possibility is that a wildlife poacher transmitted the virus to traders who transported him to Wuhan. The Chinese government has promoted theories, with little evidence, that the outbreak may have started with imports of frozen seafood contaminated with the virus, a notion categorically rejected by scientists and international agencies.
One possible center of interest for investigators is the city’s institute of virology. One of China’s top virus research labs, it built an archive of genetic information on bat coronaviruses after the 2003 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS.
The first clusters of COVID-19 were detected in Wuhan in late 2019. China has since reported more than 89,000 cases and 4,600 deaths, with the new cases largely concentrated in its freezing northeast, where local closures and restrictions travel arrangements were imposed to contain epidemics. .
New cases of local transmission continue to decline, with just 36 reported on Friday, as far fewer Chinese than usual appear willing to travel for Lunar New Year.
Associated Press photographer Ng Han Guan in Wuhan, China, and video journalist Sam McNeil in Beijing contributed to this report.
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