On Friday Jan 15th, virtual meetings between the World Health Organization-led team investigating the origins of COVID-19 and their Chinese hosts started from the hotel in Wuhan where the team is staying. Wuhan is the epicenter where the pandemic first emerged.
Absence of two members
On Thursday, the WHO team’s arrival at the city in central China was disrupted because of the absence of two members. The two had failed coronavirus antibody tests in Singapore.
Their travel to China is being arranged now, as one of the missing members has since passed a test. This information was given by China’s foreign ministry.
Team member Peter Daszak, a zoologist, tweeted “Team now undergoing the mandatory 14 days quarantine & being treated very well by our hosts. Work begins today, day 1, in teleconf. mtgs w/ China team.”
On Friday, security personnel were seen standing guard at the entrance the driveway. Aside from the driveway, the parking lot of the boutique hotel where the team resided were also guarded. In addition to this, the entrance was also cordoned off with tape.
The resurgence of COVID-19 infections in north east China has put an alert over the team’s arrival in Wuhan.
A year ago, China was accused by the United States for hiding the extent of its initial outbreak. The US has called for a “transparent” WHO-led investigation while criticizing the terms of the visit. The first phase of research was completed by the Chinese experts.
The politics surrounding the trip were kept aside according to Dominic Dwyer, an Australian virologist on the team along with other scientists.
Dwyer explains that “There’s always politics with this sort of scenario but one of the things that COVID-19 has shown us is if you have good science, you then inform the politics.“
“You want to fill the scientific vacuum with the answers so that people can make more informed and, therefore, presumably more sensible decisions.”
Dwyer hopes to visit research institutes, hospitals and the market where the first human cases of the disease were detected in late 2019. However, he said the itinerary for the rest of the trip was not finalized yet.
Dwyer said “Getting an understanding of how they (markets) work physically by seeing them is helpful because one’s trying to work out how viruses might have come into the market from outside … and spread within the market, or parts of the market, and then spread to the community.“
All meetings will be held virtually. As such, the team are prohibited to mingle in quarantine.
Dwyer said “It’s in the room for two weeks.” He also mentioned “The rooms are a good size and they’ve given everyone exercise equipment and meals are delivered”. Dwyer also said they were provided a skipping rope, some weights and a yoga mat in their rooms.
After re-testing negative in an antibody test, one of the two missing members of the team who is from the UK, will be allowed to travel to China. This is according to a news briefing foreign by ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian in Beijing on Friday.
Zhao said the other member is still testing positive for antibodies. The second member is a Sudanese. The spokesman said “We will remain in contact with the WHO on these matters.”
Before leaving their home countries, the team of 15 had all tested negative for the disease and while in transit in Singapore, underwent further testing.
16th January 2021 22:30
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