WHO-led COVID-19 probe team in China visits animal health facility

A team of investigators led by the World Health Organization (WHO) arrived on Tuesday at an animal health facility in China’s central city of Wuhan in the search for clues about the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic. The independent team has already visited key hospitals, the regional disease control centre and the city’s Huanan seafood market, where the first cluster of infections was believed to have originated late in 2019. 

The trip was going ‘really well, excellent’, one of its members, Peter Daszak, president of the EcoHealth Alliance, told news agency Reuters on Tuesday, responding to a query just before entering the animal health centre. 

The centre in the province of Hubei, which fights epidemic diseases in animals, could provide information on how a coronavirus endemic in horseshoe bats in southwest China might have crossed into humans, possibly via an intermediary species. Peter Ben Embarek, the WHO’s top expert on ‘zoonotic’ diseases that originate in animals, was among the team members clad in white suits of personal protective equipment spotted within the centre’s premises. 

A worker, also wearing protective gear, disinfected the road outside after the team had entered. On Monday, the WHO’s top emergency official, Mike Ryan, said the investigation might not find all the answers to the origins of COVID-19, describing the mission as a “detective story” that continued to raise new questions. 

He also criticised those who have said they would not accept the team’s findings. 

“It deserves the support of the international community and it deserves to be able to finish its work,” he added. 

Last week, after meeting with Chinese scientists earlier in the day, the team went to the Hubei Provincial Hospital of Integrated Chinese and Western Medicine. 

Zhang Jixian, director of the hospital`s department of respiratory and critical care, has been cited by state media as the first to report the novel coronavirus, after treating an elderly couple in late 2019 whose CT scans showed differences from typical pneumonia. 

“Extremely important 1st site visit. We are in the hospital that treated some of the first known cases of COVID-19, meeting with the actual clinicians & staff who did this work, having open discussion about the details of their work,” Peter Daszak, a member of the WHO-led team, wrote on Twitter.

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