A team of WHO scientists arrived in Wuhan today to investigate the origins of the coronavirus. However, two scientists were detained in Singapore for fear that China would try to block the probe to prevent embarrassing discoveries.
The 13 visitors, who will be quarantined for two weeks before starting work, were greeted by Chinese officials in hazmat suits after arriving from Singapore on their much-belated journey.
Two others were denied entry after testing positive for Covid-19 antibodies in Singapore – even though the entire team tested negative for a current infection using the gold standard PCR test.
Beijing has long resisted pressure for a full investigation, touting theories that the virus may not have originated in Wuhan, but the WHO team was approved after months of negotiations with Chinese authorities.
While the team will investigate the wet market associated with an early group of infections, there are no plans to assess whether the virus was accidentally released from a Wuhan laboratory, as Donald Trump and others have suggested.
Amid speculation that Trump will release a cache of information accusing the Wuhan laboratory before leaving office next Wednesday, a UK-based expert said it was a "routine activity," a "scientific test" of the institute perform.
China's communist rulers have prided themselves on their success in reducing infections within national borders to a minimum, making them the only OECD nation to see economic growth in 2020.
But the US has accused China of hiding the extent of its initial outbreak and criticized the conditions under which Chinese experts conducted the first phase of research.
A Chinese government spokesman said this week that the WHO visitors would exchange with Chinese scientists but gave no indication of whether they would be allowed to collect evidence.
It came when China registered its first official virus death since last May, with cases at their highest since the end of the first outbreak.
A Chinese official wearing a protective suit and goggles instructs members of the WHO panel of experts to arrive at Wuhan Airport on Thursday
Members of the WHO team board a bus after arriving in a cordoned off area in the international arrivals area in Wuhan
China's Official Timeline Against New Evidence
December 8, 2019 – Earliest date China recognized infection
December 31 – China reported pneumonia of unknown cause to the World Health Organization for the first time
January 1, 2020 – Wuhan fish market closed due to disinfection
11th January – China reported its first death
January 23 – Wuhan locked
31 January – WHO stated the outbreak of international concern as China admitted it has thousands of cases
February 23 – Italy reports an accumulation of cases in the first major outbreak in the west
September 2019– Blood samples are taken in a lung cancer screening trial in Italy, which later test positive for coronavirus
Oct-Dec – Rise in cases of flu and pneumonia in northern Italy that could be linked to the coronavirus
Nov – Wastewater samples from Florianópolis, Brazil suggest that a virus was present
November 10th – The Milanese woman has a skin biopsy that will produce a sample that will later show signs of the virus
November 17th – Leaked documents suggest that a case was discovered in China that day
December 1 – Chinese researchers report an infection at this time in a peer-reviewed study, but it was not recognized by Beijing
December 18th – Wastewater samples taken in Milan and Turin suggest that viruses were circulating in the cities
Jan 2020 – Wastewater samples from Barcelona suggest viruses were in the city
Scientists initially believed the virus spread to humans in a market selling exotic animals in Wuhan, triggering the epidemic that spun around the world, ruining the global economy and killing nearly two million people.
However, experts believe that the market was not the origin of the disease, but the location of a super-spreader event that amplified the outbreak.
It is widely believed that the virus originally came from bats, but a suspected third animal that transmitted it between bats and humans is unknown.
In light of allegations of causing the pandemic, China has advanced the theories that the outbreak could have started importing tainted seafood, an idea that has been rejected by international scientists and agencies.
After Australia called for an independent investigation in April, Beijing retaliated by blocking imports of Australian beef, wine and other goods.
Some members of the WHO team were on their way to China a week ago but were forced to turn back after Beijing announced they had not received valid visas.
The bureaucratic delay "begs the question of whether the Chinese authorities are trying to interfere," said Adam Kamradt-Scott, a health expert at the University of Sydney.
Today the team faced further delays after two of the scientists were detained in Singapore for their antibody test results.
A positive antibody test suggests someone has had coronavirus in the past – but the entire 15-person tour group tested negative for a current infection.
The 13 who landed in China are made up of seven people from a panel of experts studying the origins of the virus, five experts working for WHO, and a member of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.
The WHO team worked to cut the political baggage associated with its mission, saying they are not looking for "culprits" and are ready to find out "anywhere, anywhere" how the virus originated.
Peter Ben Embarek, who heads the WHO mission, said the group could "move around and meet our Chinese colleagues in person and go to the different places we want to visit".
He warned it could be "a very long journey before we get a full understanding of what happened".
& # 39; What we would like to do with the international team and its colleagues in China is to return to the Wuhan area, re-interview the first cases, find other cases that have not yet been discovered at this point, and to see if we can push back the history of the first cases, ”said Ben Embarek in November.
"I don't think we will have clear answers after this first mission, but we will be on our way," added Embarek.
"The idea is to advance a series of studies that were designed and decided a few months ago to give us a better understanding of what happened," he said.
A worker in protective suit stands next to buses before the World Health Organization team arrives in Wuhan today
Passengers arriving on the flight from Singapore are handled by staff in protective clothing and directed to a covered walkway to a separate exit
This map shows how many countries found evidence of virus transmission long before China alarmed the world
Who on the WHO team is studying the origins of the coronavirus?
The WHO unveiled a 10-member panel in November to investigate the origins of the coronavirus, including this month's visit to China.
Also known is Peter Ben Embarek, the team leader who spoke publicly about the probe.
Today WHO said 15 people left for China, making it unclear who the remaining four are. The 11 known scientists are:
Peter Ben Embarek – Team leaders and scientists in the Food Safety, Zoonoses and Foodborne Diseases Department of the WHO
Thea Fischer – Virologist and epidemiologist at the University of Copenhagen, previously at the State Serum Institute in Denmark
John Watson – Deputy Chief Medical Officer of the United Kingdom from 2013 to 2017; Honorary Professor of Epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
Marion Koopmans – Dutch virologist, head of the Viroscience Department at the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam
Dominic Dwyer – Australian microbiologist at Westmead Clinical School in Sydney who helped breed the virus for research last February
Vladimir Dedkov – Epidemiologist at the Pasteur Institute in Russia
Hung Nguyen – Vietnamese biologist at the International Livestock Research Institute in Kenya who specializes in food safety risks in wet markets
Fabian Leendertz – Microbiologist at the German Robert Koch Institute who studies how viruses jump between animals and humans
Peter Daszak – British zoologist, president of the US-based EcoHealth Alliance, and came under fire for links to the virology lab in Wuhan
Farag El Moubasher – Epidemiologist in the Qatari Ministry of Health researching emerging diseases
Ken Maeda – Director of the National Institute for Infectious Diseases in Japan
Hung Nguyen, a Vietnamese biologist who is part of the team, said the team intends to spend two weeks interviewing people from research institutes, hospitals, and the market associated with the early clustering of cases.
"To the best of my knowledge, there are no limits to the information we may need for the team to access," said Hung, an expert on food safety risks in humid markets.
However, according to the WHO's published agenda, there are no plans to assess whether there may have been an accidental release at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
As one of the best virus research laboratories in China, the institute built an archive of genetic information on bat coronaviruses after the SARS outbreak in the early 2000s.
A "scientific review" of the institute's records and security measures would be "routine," said Mark Woolhouse, an epidemiologist at the University of Edinburgh.
The WHO had previously criticized Trump and others for their alleged respect for China in the first few weeks of the outbreak.
Tedros met with Chinese President Xi Jinping last January. The WHO praised Beijing for its "seriousness" and "transparency".
In September, a WHO official warmly congratulated the people and health workers in China for bringing the crisis under control.
When the scientists arrived today wearing face masks, they were greeted by airport staff in full protective gear including masks, goggles and full body suits.
Team members include viruses and other experts from the US, Australia, Germany, Japan, UK, Russia, the Netherlands, Qatar, and Vietnam.
They will be subjected to a two-week quarantine as well as a throat swab test and an antibody test for Covid-19, according to the state broadcaster CGTN.
A single visit is unlikely to confirm the origin of the virus. Holding on to the animal reservoir of an outbreak is usually a comprehensive endeavor that requires years of research, including animal samples, genetic analysis, and epidemiological studies.
"The government should be very transparent and cooperative," said Shin-Ru Shih, director of the Research Center for Emerging Viral Infection at Chang Gung University in Taiwan.
More than 20 million people are locked in northern China on their trip and one province declares an emergency as local clusters continue to thwart Beijing's efforts to fight the virus.
China had largely brought the pandemic under control through strict lockdowns and mass tests and welcomed its economic boom as a sign of strong leadership by the communist authorities.
According to the latest estimates by the OECD, China's GDP grew by 1.8 percent in 2020, while the US economy contracted 3.7 percent, the euro zone by 7.5 percent and the UK by 11.2 percent.
The Huanan seafood wholesaler in Wuhan, pictured last January, was originally believed to be the cause of the outbreak. However, experts believe that a super-spreader event may have occurred here that compounded an epidemic that began elsewhere
The Wuhan Institute of Virology campus, which was scrutinized after the new coronavirus appeared in the city
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who was pictured with Chinese head of state Xi Jinping last January, has been criticized by Donald Trump for his alleged proximity to China
Chinese scientists and officials have on various occasions suggested that the virus could originate from Bangladesh, the United States, Greece, Australia, India, Italy, the Czech Republic, Russia, or Serbia
New figures show that China's trade surplus with the United States rose 7.1 percent last year and is 14.9 percent higher than when Trump took office.
However, the virus remains a sporadic threat within China's borders, and another 138 infections were reported by the National Health Commission on Thursday – the highest single-day number since March last year.
And the officially reported death toll rose by one to 4,635 for the first time since May 2020.
The news triggered alarms across China, and the hashtag "New virus death in Hebei" quickly generated 100 million views on the Chinese social media platform Weibo.
"I haven't seen the words 'virus death' in a long time, it's a bit shocking! I hope the epidemic can be over soon," wrote one user.
Beijing is looking to stamp out local clusters before next month's New Year celebrations, when hundreds of millions of people will be roaming the country.
China was the first nation to put in lockdowns for the virus last year, but a number of other countries have found evidence that the coronavirus had reached them as early as the late months of 2019.
Italy, France and Brazil found all traces of the virus before the WHO Chinese office was officially informed of the outbreak on December 31, 2019.
The virus was first confirmed to have spread outside of China in January when a 61-year-old woman was found infected in Thailand.
A young Chinese doctor, Li Wenliang, was reprimanded by the police after trying to raise the alarm about the disease – and later died from it. China has always denied allegations of cover-up.
EDWARD LUCAS: The evidence points to a cover-up for Covid-19 … but the truth cannot be hidden forever
By Edward Lucas for the Daily Mail
Secrets, lies and brawls are the hallmarks of the communist regime in China. And in the secret of the devastating Wuhan virus, all three are united.
The strongest evidence of a crime is a cover-up. And the Chinese authorities have planned that.
They fought fiercely to prevent an international investigation into the origins of the pandemic.
Your repeated obstruction of the World Health Organization information missions has even provoked this notoriously supine body to protest.
Even now, WHO investigators are being denied access to the vital laboratory in Wuhan, which is likely to be the focus of American allegations.
Pictured: Virologists work in the P4 laboratory of the Wuhan Institute of Virology in central China
The researchers work in a laboratory at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China
Experts have been questioning the events of the Chinese authorities for a year. Now, it appears Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is due to bring a direct charge.
Was it really a pure coincidence that the virus first attacked humanity in the only city in China with a research laboratory that specializes in manipulating the world's most dangerous viruses?
That would be as strange as a new disease popping up around Britain's top secret biological defense research facility in Porton Down in Wiltshire.
To date, scientists who support the theory that the virus is a mutation that emerged from Wuhan's “wet market” have not been able to find a compelling candidate for the animal in which the mutation actually occurred.
The official explanation is that the new virus was 96 percent identical to the RaTG13 bat virus found in southern China's Yunnan Province.
But as the Chinese professor Botao Xiao pointed out in a newspaper in February, such bats are not sold in the city's markets. And the caves they live in are hundreds of miles away.
Pictured: A woman walks past a shop on a street that sells fried scales of endangered psoriasis or scaly anteater in Hong Kong despite being the subject of an international ban
The paper has disappeared from the internet. Mr. Xiao, perhaps aware of the fate awaiting those in China who promote inconvenient truths, has refused.
Many scientists privately assumed that a rigged virus released by a laboratory accident was at least as likely as the idea of a series of surprisingly unfortunate random mutations.
After all, Shi Zhengli, the Chinese scientist nicknamed "Bat Woman", was a regular visitor to these caves.
When the news of the outbreak broke, she initially feared that a leak in her research institute was to blame.
This thought alone should have led to a comprehensive and searching investigation. Instead, the Chinese Ministry of Education issued a dictation: "Any paper tracing the origin of the virus must be strictly and strictly administered."
But even the Chinese regime cannot hold back the truth forever. Over the past twelve months, independent research, official leaks, and news reports have strengthened the hypothesis of laboratory leaks.
Investigation: Former Brexit Secretary David Davis said it was "important" that the WHO team investigate the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China (pictured) as the possible origin of the Covid pandemic
In February, a Taiwanese professor, Fang Chi-tai, highlighted a strange feature of the virus' genetic code that would make it more effective at targeting cells.
This is likely not the result of a natural mutation, he suggested. Much scientific research involves modifying viruses to understand how they work.
For years, many observers have feared that the risks of such experiments were not properly considered.
Laboratory safety procedures are fraught with potential loopholes and flaws: fractures, animal bites, faulty equipment, or simple mislabeling can result in a deadly pathogen reaching its first human victim. If so, this negligence has cost tens of millions of lives in the meantime.
Still, we should be clear. The Chinese authorities are ruthless. But even they would not cause a global plague.
It is only in the feverish imagination of conspiracy theorists that Beijing is deliberately waging biological wars against the West.
Paradoxically, such speculation, encouraged, among others, by Steve Bannon, former advisor to President Donald Trump, may have hampered the search for the truth by making laboratory release theory appear racially and politically toxic.
In February, scientists published an open letter in Britain's politically correct medical journal, The Lancet, denouncing "conspiracy theories and rumors" and urging solidarity with Chinese colleagues.
However, it was only the colleagues who bore the brunt of the regime's desperate attempts to censor the truth about the outbreak.
The Chinese regime particularly values self-preservation – certainly about the truth or the health of its own people, let alone about the lives of foreigners.
(tagsToTranslate) Dailymail (t) Nachrichten (t) Donald Trump (t) Coronavirus (t) Singapore (t) China