WHO team in Wuhan begins field study Friday, to visit hospitals, meet local experts
Published: Jan 29, 2021 11:44 AM

Peter Ben Embarek, a member of the WHO team tasked with investigating the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, waves from a bus while leaving Wuhan Tianhe International Airport in Wuhan on Thursday. Photo: Reuters

The WHO team of 13 scientists on the mission to study the origins of the coronavirus is scheduled to visit local hospitals and seafood market and have face-to-face meetings with Chinese scientists in Wuhan, starting Friday, having finished their 14-day quarantine, with one member telling the Global Times there are "records and information everywhere" worth being explored. 

Peter Ben Embarek, who leads the WHO team, told the Global Times on Thursday night that although the Huanan seafood market has been sealed off, the experts believe that there is still plenty to see and experience there. "[We hope to] understand the setting, see the places where cases were linked, reconstruct the initial event there, search for records of animals, products traded there. And possibly talking to some of the merchants who were there at that time," Ben Embarek said.

There are also plans to visit local hospitals, such as the Jinyintan Hospital, as they were the first to receive COVID-19 patients at the beginning of the outbreak in Wuhan. "There are information and records everywhere, so it is still worth exploring these places," the expert said. 

The WHO also said on Thursday that as the experts start their field visits on Friday, they should receive the support, access and data they need. The team plans to visit hospitals, laboratories and markets. Field visits will include the Wuhan Institute of Virology, Huanan market and the Wuhan CDC laboratory, the organization said. The experts will also speak with early responders and some of the first COVID-19 patients.

The team also expected to review and analyze the results of the recent studies conducted here and see how much more can be learned from them, according to Ben Embarek. 

The experts will then develop a series of hypotheses on how the virus was introduced to humans and explore each of them. Following this, they will plan new studies to better understand and explore each theory, Ben Embarek said. 

Due to the 14-day quarantine, the WHO team has so far only had online meetings, and it will be much more productive starting Friday, as they will be able to have face-to-face meetings with the Chinese scientists. "We have very good relationships between the two teams," Ben Embarek added. 

"My understanding is that there will be no restrictions or limitations in working with our Chinese colleagues or in visiting places the joint team deem of interest," Ben Embarek noted. 

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Thursday that he appreciated a frank discussion on the COVID-19 origins mission with Ma Xiaowei, the head of China's National Health Commission.

Commenting on US media reports that White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the US wanted a "robust and clear" international probe into "the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic in China," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said on Thursday that it is inappropriate to make any presumptions, negative speculations, or even attempts to politicize the interpretation of words and deeds.

"They will cause unnecessary interference in the WHO expert group's scientific research cooperation in China and are not conducive to serious scientific conclusions," he warned.
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