WHO experts head to Wuhan for virus probe

BEIJING (AFP) – A team of World Health Organization (WHO) experts will land directly in Wuhan tomorrow, China’s Foreign Ministry said yesterday, starting their long-delayed probe into COVID-19 at the virus epicentre.

The 10 scientists will investigate the origins of the new virus in a politically fraught mission that comes more than a year after the pandemic began and after accusations Beijing has tried to thwart the project.

Wuhan, a city of 11 million people. PHOTO: AFP

The WHO team will leave from Singapore and fly straight to Wuhan, the central city where the first cluster of cases was detected in December 2019.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters this was the “current plan” and said the WHO team was set to arrive tomorrow.

It is expected that they will have to complete two weeks of quarantine due to China’s strict border restrictions.

The investigation had been set to start last week but a last-minute hold up over entry permissions in China scuppered plans.

head of the viroscience department at Rotterdam’s Erasmus University Medical Center and part of the WHO team Marion Koopmans said they wanted to “re-construct” how the pandemic started.

“I think it would be the start of a probably longer term project,” she told Chinese state broadcaster CGTN.

Beijing has argued that Wuhan is not necessarily the source of the virus, and officials have pushed theories that it began abroad.

When asked about the chance that the virus could have emerged overseas, Koopmans said the WHO team would “have an open mind to all hypotheses”.

“At this stage I don’t think we should rule anything out, but it is important to start where, obviously in Wuhan, a big outbreak occurred,” she said.