After more than a year A new Corona virus first appeared in ChinaA team of experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) finally arrived in the central city of Wuhan on Thursday to start searching for its source.
The investigation by a team of 10 scientists is a crucial step in understanding how the virus is transmitted to humans from animals so that another pandemic can be avoided. Getting answers is likely to be difficult.
The Chinese government, known to be wary of outside scrutiny, has repeatedly obstructed the team’s access – and the investigation. Even in the best of circumstances, a full investigation could take months, if not longer. The team must also overcome China’s attempts to politicize the investigation.
Here’s what you need to know about the investigation.
China erected barriers and pushed for control.
Visa delays. Quarantine rules. Political procrastination.
Apparently concerned about drawing renewed attention to the country’s early mistakes in dealing with the pandemic, Chinese officials have used a variety of tactics. Over the past year To block the WHO investigation.
After resisting demands from other countries to allow independent investigators to enter their territory to study the origin of the pathogen, China finally allowed two WHO experts. Visit in July To lay the foundation. The team was then immediately placed in quarantine for 14 days, forcing the team members to carry out some of their police work from a distance.
They were not allowed to visit Wuhan, where the virus first appeared.
For several months, China delayed approval of a visit by an entire team of experts, to the frustration of the health agency leaders. When the visit appeared to be completed earlier this month, it collapsed at the last minute when Beijing failed to offer visas to visitors, according to the health agency. Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization, issued a rare rebuke to Beijing at a press conference, saying he was “very disappointed” by the delay.
The Chinese government has required Chinese scientists to oversee important parts of the investigation. It has limited the WHO’s access to critical research and data. The entire WHO team will be required to undergo two weeks of quarantine in Wuhan before it can begin the espionage.
Critics say Beijing’s desire for control means the investigation will likely be more political than scientific.
“You want this investigation to be comprehensive, not politicized, independent and transparent,” said Yanzhong Huang, senior global health fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. “But we have to be realistic.”
Despite the problems, the World Health Organization says it intends to conduct a rigorous and transparent study.
Tariq Jasarevic, a spokesman for the agency, said in a statement that the World Health Organization was committed to investigating the origin of the virus from the start. “We ask all countries to support these efforts by demonstrating openness and transparency.”
Tracking down the virus will be a daunting task.
The team that arrived in Wuhan, according to state radio CGTN, will face a city that has radically transformed since the virus first appeared in late 2019. The city that closed on January 23 last year has become a symbol of the virus. The destruction was stopped by Chinese officials a year later A success story in defeating the virus – a city reborn.
WHO experts have decades of experience digging deeper into viruses, animal health and disease control. They come from Britain, Germany, Japan, Russia, the United States and other countries. Peter DazakBritish pathologist, Hong Nguyen, a Vietnamese scientist who studies zoonotic diseases, is among the team members.
But tracing the source of the virus that has killed nearly 2 million people worldwide and infected more than 92 million as of Thursday will be difficult. While experts believe that the virus arose naturally in animals, Maybe a batLittle is known.
The team is expected to test the first reported cases of the virus in China, and is likely to check data from samples collected in a sprawling wet market in Wuhan that used to sell bushmeat and live animals. Many of the first reported infections were traced there.
Public health experts say the extent of the team’s reach in China will be critical.
Raina MacIntyre, head of the Biosecurity Program at the Kirby Institute, said they should be able to review all the data that the CDC has collected in China about the outbreak, “including contact tracing, environmental sampling, genetic sequencing and patient zero identification.” . From the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. “It is important to do this in a comprehensive and transparent manner.”
The health agency did not say how long the investigation would take, nor did it release a detailed plan for the team’s visit.
Marion Koopmans, a Dutch virologist on the WHO team, said the investigation was a “long-term project”.
In a statement, she said, “We will gather all the scientific information already gathered by our colleagues in China together and discuss,“ What does that tell us? ” A recent interview With CGTN, the Chinese international broadcaster. “Are there bits of information we would like to add? How is this possible?”
The team will have to avoid attempts to politicize its investigation.
The pandemic has damaged China’s reputation, as many foreign governments are still angry that Beijing has not done more to contain the crisis in its early stages. So Chinese propagandists are trying to use the WHO investigation to help cement China’s image and portray the country as a mature superpower.
The new China News Agency (Xinhua) said China is open, frank and sincere Suspension On Wednesday about the investigation.
The World Health Organization itself has also been attacked By the Trump administration for appearing to bend to China’s will, even as the United States faced criticism for its ineffective response to the epidemic. Before the team arrived, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo He said on Twitter Tuesday: “WHO, spoiled by Chinese influence, bought cheap. WHO investigators are still unable to reach Wuhan – a year after reporting the first cases?”
On the same day, Global Times, a state-run tabloid, Wrote The suspended visit showed that China “has always been dedicated to making its contribution to the global war against the epidemic with a transparent and responsible attitude and a spirit of respect for science.”
The Chinese government has tried to push the baseless theories that the virus appeared outside China. Chinese scholars have suggested this, without evidence Canned food from outside It might have brought the virus to China or the epidemic could have started in India.
Experts say the hot political climate will make it difficult for the WHO to conduct an independent investigation.
“The main concern here is that the origin of the outbreak has been politicized,” said Mr. Huang, a global health expert. “This has already narrowed the way for the WHO to conduct an independent, objective and scientific investigation.”
Albi Zhang and Claire Fu contributed to the research.