WHO unveils team of 10 scientists to trace the origin of Covid-19 in Wuhan ground zero, but warns it is a ‘mystery that could take years to solve’
- The WHO has assembled an international team of leading virus hunters
- Included in the line-up is former deputy chief medical officer of England, John Watson
- UN agency warned that finding a new pathogen ‘is a mystery that could take years’
The World Health Organization (WHO) has named the 10 scientists who are sending it to coronavirus ground zero, Wuhan, to investigate the origins of the disease.
Experts still don’t know how Sars-Cov-2 – the virus that causes Covid-19 – hopped on humans in the city in Hubei province last year, or what animal it came from.
The WHO has assembled an international team of leading virus hunters, public health experts and zoologists to answer those burning questions.
Included in the line-up is former England Deputy Medical Director John Watson, who held the role under the governments of David Cameron and Theresa May from 2013 to 2017.
But the UN agency has tried to dampen expectations that a response will be forthcoming, by warning that tracking down new pathogens is a “mystery that could take years to resolve.”
It took more than a year for scientists to prove that MERS, another coronavirus, originated from camels in Saudi Arabia, and even longer to trace the original SARS back to bats in a cave in southern China.
One of the main attractions is the controversial Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, where animals were kept dead and alive dangerously close together in cramped cages.
The market, where animals were slaughtered to order, is touted as the original epicenter of the disease. The team of scientists will try to track down which animals may have carried the virus and where they came from.
Another major focus is the Wuhan Virology Institute, a highly secured biochemical laboratory in the heart of the city.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has named the 10 scientists who are sending it to coronavirus ground zero, Wuhan, to investigate the origins of the disease. One of the main attractions is the Huanan Seafood Wholesales Market (photo)
Skinned chicks in the market where live animals were kept in tight cages and slaughtered to order
There is a worldwide suspicion that the crisis originated at the institute after intelligence officials in the US and UK raised the alarm about the lab’s work with bats – although the theories have never been proven.
Beijing last month gave the WHO the blessing to send its 10-member team of experts to China early next year after conducting a preliminary “reconnaissance mission” in China over the summer, although that team did not visit Wuhan.
The WHO panel is made up of experts from the UK, the US, Australia, Denmark, the Netherlands, Japan, Qatar, Germany, Vietnam and Russia.
Dr. Mike Ryan, head of WHO’s emergency response program, said the team met their Chinese counterparts through Zoom on Oct. 30 and has received regular calls since then.
“We fully expect and have the reassurance of our Chinese government colleagues that the trip … will be facilitated as soon as possible so that the international community can be assured of the quality of science,” said Dr. Ryan. The Telegraph.
“We have to start where we found the first cases – and that’s in Wuhan, China – and then we have to follow the evidence wherever that leads,” he added.
“We expect and have the reassurance of our Chinese government colleagues that the trip… will be facilitated as soon as possible so that the international community can be assured of the quality of science.”
Scientists believe Covid-19 originated in bats and then jumped to another animal that acted as an intermediate host before making the jump to the human population.
The recent outbreak of a mutated Covid-19 strain in mink has proven that small mammals are carriers of the disease.
And experts think this may have been the case in Wuhan, possibly of animals sharing caves with bats in southern China or in Laos or Vietnam, across the border.
Pangolins were touted as potential intermediate hosts early in the crisis. But a study published this week almost ruled out this theory after researchers who tested the anteater in Southeast Asia, none of them tested positive for the virus.
WHO ARE THE 10 SCIENTISTS SENT TO WUHAN?
Included in the line-up is former deputy chief medical officer of England, John Watson
Epidemiologist and former deputy chief of medical services
Zoologist and chairman of the New York-based group, the EcoHealth Alliance
Virologist and head of the Viroscience department of the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam
Farag El Moubasher
Expert in infectious diseases at the Ministry of Health of Qatar
From the Animal and Human Health Program of the International Livestock Research Institute, located in Vietnam
Thea Kølsen Fischer
Expert in infectious diseases at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark
Epidemiologist at the Robert Koch Institute in Germany
Virologist working at Westmead Hospital in Sydney
Veterinary Microbiologist at the Japanese National Institute of Infectious Diseases (NIID)
Epidemiologist at the Pasteur Institute in Russia
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