WHO intl team studying coronavirus origin to kick off China visit in Jan., may also visit other countries: team member
Published: Dec 17, 2020 10:18 AM

Medical staff nurse a COVID-19 patient in Wuhan, central China's Hubei Province, April 14, 2020. Photo: Xinhua

A team of international experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) is expected to visit China in January as part of their global study on the origins of the novel coronavirus. One team member believed the China trip will start from Wuhan, where COVID-19 cases were first reported, but may also extend to outside the country. 

The WHO has set up a 10-person international team to carry out a global study of the virus origins, and told the Global Times on Thursday via an email that the team is currently working on logistical arrangements to travel to China as soon as possible. 

"We hope the team will be able to travel in January," a WHO spokesperson told the Global Times.

Fabian Leendertz, who is part of the team and a biologist at Germany's Robert Koch Institute, told the Global Times on Thursday that he and most of the team members may go to China and will visit Wuhan, although detailed arrangements such as specific dates, an exact plan and whether they will visit more Chinese cities are being discussed with their Chinese colleagues.  

"We are already in good contact with the Chinese teams from various disciplines and are looking forward to supporting where we can and if needed. You have some top leader scientists in China," Leendertz said.

Thea Fischer, a Danish member of the WHO international team, told Reuters that the team would leave "just after New Year's" for a six-week mission, which will include two weeks of quarantine on arrival.

The COVID-19 outbreak was first reported in Wuhan, but where an epidemic is first detected does not reflect where it started, according to the WHO.  

Leendertz said the team will start where the first solid evidence was generated, and this is in Wuhan. 

"From there we do the scientific work and follow the tracks wherever they take us... could be within China, could be outside China. We have to be open for all directions, this is what science is about and it is data based," Leendertz said.

Countries including the US, Italy and France have reported coronavirus evidence in environmental and human specimens before or around the time the virus was officially identified in China, and Chinese analysts have called on countries including Italy and the US to work with WHO to analyze and investigate the origin of the virus. 

A recent US CDC report found COVID-19 antibodies in blood samples as early as Dec 13, 2019. With more & more evidence surfacing about the coronavirus’ origins in places outside China before Wuhan detected it, the world is remapping the history of the COVID-19 pandemic. Infographic:GT


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