WHO team released from quarantine to investigate Covid-19 origins in Wuhan

28 January 2021, 12:42

WHO investigators are investigating the origins of Covid-19 in Wuhan
WHO investigators are investigating the origins of Covid-19 in Wuhan. Picture: PA Images
Ewan Quayle

By Ewan Quayle

A World Health Organisation team has been released from quarantine in China to investigate the origins of the Covid-19 virus.

The researchers left their hotel after 14 days inside and boarded a bus in Wuhan - but it was not immediately clear where they were heading.

The mission has become politically charged as China seeks to avoid blame for alleged missteps in its early response to the outbreak.

Read more: WHO scientists arrive in Wuhan to start pandemic investigation

The country has denied being obstructive but investigators and their backers have expressed frustration at the lack of clarity around the specifics of the virus at the beginning of 2020.

A major question is where the Chinese side will allow the researchers to go and who they will be able to talk to.

WHO investigators have been released from a quarantine hotel in Wuhan, China
WHO investigators have been released from a quarantine hotel in Wuhan, China. Picture: PA Images

Most experts believe it came from bats, possibly in south-west China or neighbouring areas of south-east Asia, before being passed to another animal and then to humans.

The origin search will try to determine where and how that happened.

But Chinese officials and state media have tried to cast doubt on whether the virus even started in China.

Read more: 'Inequalities during Covid-19 mirrors reality of pre-pandemic healthcare', expert says

Yellow barriers blocked the entrance to the hotel to keep the media at a distance and allow the luggage and passengers to board safely.

Workers in full PPE were seen loading luggage on to the bus - including two musical instruments, a dumbbell and four yoga mattresses.

Former WHO official Keiji Fukuda, who is not part of the team in Wuhan, cautioned earlier this month against expecting any breakthroughs any time soon.

It is widely believed the virus originated from food sold at a market in Wuhan, China
It is widely believed the virus originated from food sold at a market in Wuhan, China. Picture: PA Images

He claims it may take years before any firm conclusions can be made on the virus's origin.

"This is now well over a year past when it all started," he said. "So much of the physical evidence is going to be gone.

"The memories of people are imprecise and probably the physical layout of many places are going to be different than they were and how people are moving about and so on."

The mission only came about after considerable wrangling between the sides that led to a rare complaint from the WHO that Beijing was taking too long to make final arrangements.

China, which has strongly opposed an independent investigation it could not control, said the matter was complicated and that Chinese medical staff were preoccupied with new virus clusters in Beijing, Shanghai and other cities.

While the WHO was criticised early on, especially by the US administration, for not being critical enough of the Chinese response, it recently accused China and other countries of moving too slowly at the start of the outbreak.

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