China coronavirus investigation team and date of visit still to be decided

29-Aug-2020 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 11:01 AM Print This Post

The World Health Organization is still putting together an expert team to look into the source of Covid-19 and says it will travel to Wuhan the original epicentre of the pandemic to begin the study on an unspecified date.

Mike Ryan, director of the WHO’s emergencies programme, said the two-member advance team to China in July spent two weeks in quarantine outside Beijing and a week in the capital meeting and videoconferencing with Chinese officials and experts.

Responding to questions by the South China Morning Post at a press conference on Thursday, Ryan confirmed the advance team did not go to Wuhan but instead prepared the terms of reference for the expert team that is yet to begin its study in the central Chinese city.

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The WHO has been quiet about the names of the two experts and vague until now on the itinerary of the advance team’s July visit, though it said earlier that international experts would start their investigations in Wuhan.

Speaking in the same conference, WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the advance team had not intended to go to Wuhan in July. “It was not their intention to start the study and they had no plan to travel to Wuhan,” he said.

“The international experts are being put together [now] and of course naturally they will travel to Wuhan to start the study because it is the basics of enquiries like this to start the study where the first report came from.”

Neither Ghebreyesus nor Ryan gave a date for when the actual mission would start. While the size, make-up and date of the mission are still unknown, it is also unclear if the team will be required to go through two weeks of quarantine before work begins.

“An international team is being called together right now and many countries have expressed interest in participating in that,” Ryan said, adding the UN agency was also reaching out to its partners in the global response network for experts to join the group.

He said Ghebreyesus had written to Ma Xiaowei, minister in charge of China’s National Health Commission, on the design of the study, which would be carried out in two phases.

“Phase 1 will focus on an epidemiological study in Wuhan, focusing on the chain of transmission in Wuhan … The subsequent study will have much more details on the animal-human side of things.”

Ryan said that, while in Beijing, the advance team held a videoconference with representatives from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which would be included in the expert team’s itinerary.

The institute, famous for its research into bat viruses, is at the heart of US President Donald Trump’s accusation that the novel coronavirus which has so far infected 24 million people and killed more than 820,000 was leaked from its P4 laboratory. The claim is fiercely rejected by China.

Ryan said the advance team had also spoken to representatives from China’s ministries for health, and science and technology, as well as the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention while in Beijing.

The trip by the WHO’s international experts will be under close scrutiny following criticism of the UN agency by Western politicians and media for being “pro-China” an accusation cited by Trump as a reason to stop US funding for the organisation.

China, on the other hand, rejects the criticism and insists the WHO international expert team will “assist” the work of Chinese scientists if it travels to China, rather than carry out an investigation into China’s work.


Category: China

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