A team of World Health Organisation (WHO) officials has arrived in the Chinese city of Wuhan to start its investigation into the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic. It comes after months of negotiations between the WHO and Beijing. With Covid-19 first being detected in Wuhan in central China in late 2019, the group of 10 scientists is set to interview people from research institutes, hospitals and the seafood market linked to the initial outbreak.
The team's arrival coincides with a resurgence of new coronavirus cases in the north of the country, while life in Wuhan is relatively back to normal. The group will undergo two weeks of quarantine before beginning their research, which will rely upon samples and evidence provided by Chinese officials. Just before the trip team leader Peter Ben Embarek said that it "could be a very long journey before we get a full understanding of what happened. I don't think we will have clear answers after this initial mission, but we will be on the way."
The probe, which aims to investigate the animal origin of the pandemic, looks set to begin after some initial hiccups. Earlier the WHO said its investigators were denied entry into China after one member of the team was turned back and another got stuck in transit. But Beijing said it was a misunderstanding and that arrangements for the investigation were still in discussion.
China has been saying for months that although Wuhan is where the first cluster of cases was detected, it is not necessarily where the virus originated. Professor Dale Fisher, chair of the global outbreak and response unit at the WHO, said that he hoped the world would consider this a scientific visit. "It's not about politics or blame but getting to the bottom of a scientific question," he said. Prof Fisher added that most scientists believed that the virus was a "natural event."
The visit coincides with China reporting its first fatality from Covid-19 in eight months. News of the death in northern Hebei province prompted anxious chatter online and the hashtag ‘new virus death in Hebei’ trended briefly on social media platform Weibo.
The country has largely brought the virus under control through quick mass testing, stringent lockdowns and tight travel restrictions. But new cases have been resurfacing in recent weeks, mainly in Hebei province surrounding Beijing and Heilongjiang province in the northeast.