An international team of scientists led by the World Health Organization (WHO) arrived on Thursday, 14 January, in China’s central city of Wuhan to investigate the origins of the novel coronavirus that sparked the pandemic.
The 10-member team sent to Wuhan by the WHO was approved by President Xi Jinping’s government after months of diplomatic wrangling that prompted an unusual public complaint by the head of the WHO.
Scientists suspect the virus that has killed 1.9 million people since late 2019 jumped to humans from bats or other animals, most likely in China’s southwest. The ruling Communist Party, stung by complaints it allowed the disease to spread, says the virus came from abroad, possibly on imported seafood, but scientists reject that.
The team arrived at the Wuhan airport a little past 11 a.m. on a bright-yellow Scoot jet and walked through a makeshift clear plastic tunnel into the airport. The researchers, who only wore face masks, were greeted by airport staff in full protective gear, complete with mask, goggles and full bodysuits.
The team members include virus and other experts from the United States, Australia, Germany, Japan, Britain, Russia, the Netherlands, Qatar and Vietnam.
A government spokesman said this week they will exchange views with Chinese scientists but gave no indication whether they would be allowed to gather evidence.
They will undergo a two-week quarantine as well as a throat swab test and an antibody test for COVID-19 as they are to start working with Chinese experts via video conference while in quarantine.
China rejected demands for an international investigation after the Trump administration blamed Beijing for the virus’s spread, which plunged the global economy into its deepest slump since the 1930s.
After Australia called in April for an independent inquiry, Beijing retaliated by blocking imports of Australian beef, wine and other goods.
According to reports, the Chinese government has been strictly controlling all research into the origins of the virus and state-owned media have played up claims it could have originated elsewhere.
Meanwhile, coronavirus cases are on the rise again in China, with officials reporting its first virus-related death in months.
According to the national health commission, 43 new cases have been recorded in Heilongjiang province, with most concentrated near the capital city of Harbin.
A further 81 infections have been logged in Hebei province near Beijing and 14 from outside of China.
This made Thursday the second day in a row that the nationwide tally of infections rose into triple digits.
More than 20 million people are in lockdown in Hebei, Beijing and beyond in the hope of stemming the spread ahead of Chinese New Year.