WHO scientific team will struggle to find virus answers in Wuhan

Mission to trace the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic unlikely to solve the China mystery

It was a low-key affair. A World Health Organization scientific team finally left its quarantine hotel in Wuhan on Thursday to investigate the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The deadly virus first surfaced in the Hubei province city more than a year ago. A trip to the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, where the initial cluster of cases was traced as early as December 2019, is planned.

Yet even before the WHO mission touched down in China, controversy surrounded the trip.

“So, here we are, 12 [or] 13 months after the first recognized case of Covid-19 and we haven’t found the animal source. [This is] one more reason to investigate alternative explanations,” Dr Daniel Lucey, of the infectious diseases at Georgetown Medical Center in Washington, said earlier this month.

The facts:

  • China has come under fire for failing to curb the outbreak after Beijing bungled the initial response.
  • Under a multinational mandate, the WHO has the authority to investigate all possible scenarios for the outbreak.
  • China has yet to confirm that the scientific team will be allowed unfitted access to data.
  • Chinese Professor Shi Zhengli, a world-renowned expert in bat coronavirus strains, has issued an open invitation to visit the city’s Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases.
  • The controversial laboratory is close to the wet market, fuelling unsubstantiated reports that there was a leak.
  • Beijing has yet to confirm the visit.
  • More than 100 million people across the world have been infected by Covid-19.
  • The death toll has surpassed 2.1 million.

What was said: “There are no guarantees of answers. It is a difficult task to fully establish the origins and sometimes it can take two or three or four attempts to be able to do that in different settings,” Mike Ryan, the head of the WHO emergency response team, said at a media briefing earlier this month.

What we know: An independent investigation by a group of world leaders highlighted the flaws in the initial response to SARS-CoV-2 in China. Headed by former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark and former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response was set up by the WHO to look into the handling of the coronavirus crisis. “What is clear to the Panel is that public health measures could have been applied more forcefully by local and national health authorities in China in January [2020],” the 34-page study revealed, referring to the rapid spread in Wuhan.

China Factor comment: Apart from the appalling loss of life, economies across the planet have been trashed because of the Covid-19 catastrophe. The cost has already spiraled to US$11.7 trillion, according to the international charity group Oxfam. Amid such mind-numbing numbers, the world deserves answers and transparency from China’s ruling Communist Party. Instead, the CCP has pushed a disinformation campaign based on conspiracy theories.