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WHO team visits Wuhan hospital as it begins fieldwork into origins of pandemic

The World Health Organization team met with Chinese officials after exiting quarantine yesterday.

WHO researchers leaving a Wuhan hotel yesterday.
WHO researchers leaving a Wuhan hotel yesterday.
Image: Ng Han Guan

Updated Jan 29th 2021, 3:52 PM

A WORLD HEALTH Organisation (WHO) team visited a hospital on Friday where China says the first Covid-19 patients were treated more than a year ago as part of the experts’ fact-finding mission on the origins of the coronavirus.

The WHO team members and Chinese officials earlier had their first in-person meetings at a hotel ahead of field visits in and around the central city of Wuhan in the coming days.

“First face to face meeting with our colleagues. Correction: facemask to facemask given the medical restrictions,” Dutch virologist Marion Koopmans tweeted in the morning.

“Nice to see our colleagues after lengthy Zoom meetings,” she added.

The visiting researchers held video meetings during 14 days of quarantine after their arrival in China. They came out of quarantine yesterday.

Members of the team left the hotel by car, and a short time later entered the gates of the Hubei Provincial Hospital of Integrated Chinese and Western Medicine.

According to China’s official account of its response to the initial outbreak, Dr Zhang Jixian first reported cases of what was then known as “pneumonia of unknown origin” at the hospital on 27 December 2019.

WHO said earlier on Twitter that the team requested “detailed underlying data” and planned to speak with early responders and some of the first Covid-19 patients.

It also planned to visit markets such as the Huanan Seafood Market linked to many of the first cases, the Wuhan Institute of Virology, and laboratories at facilities such as the Wuhan Centre for Disease Control.

“All hypotheses are on the table as the team follows the science in their work to understand the origins of the COVID19 virus,” WHO tweeted.

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Confirmation of the origins of the virus is likely to take years.

Pinning down an outbreak’s animal source typically requires exhaustive research including taking animal samples, genetic analysis and epidemiological studies.

The first clusters of Covid-19 were detected in Wuhan in late 2019.

China has since reported more than 89,000 cases and 4,600 deaths, with new cases largely concentrated in its north-east, where local lockdowns and travel restrictions were being imposed to contain the outbreaks.

New cases of local transmission continue to fall, with just 36 announced today, as far fewer Chinese than usual appear willing to travel for Lunar New Year.

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