A team from the World Health Organization investigating the origins of the coronavirus pandemic arrived in Wuhan on Thursday, more than six months after the investigation was launched.
The virologist team landed a week later than expected after China delayed visa issuance, deserving a rare reprimand from Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the WHO, who said he was “very disappointed”. The team is expected to spend around a month in Wuhan, including two weeks in quarantine when members work with Chinese scientists via video conference.
The Sars-Cov-2 investigation has become a focal point for critics of the Chinese government’s handling of the pandemic who say Beijing has not been transparent about its origins.
Some also accused the WHO of being too willing to let China dictate the terms of the investigation. Mike Pompeo, US Secretary of State and Chinese Great Falcon, accused the organization this week to be “corrupted by the influence of China”.
An official with China’s National Health Commission said on Wednesday that the Chinese government was willing to work with the WHO team, but added that the organization “must” conduct investigations in other countries as well.
The visit comes as China faces a case outbreak, with 138 new cases and the first confirmed death from coronavirus in months reported Thursday. Authorities have imposed the most widespread restrictions since last year, placing restrictions on around 23 million people ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday next month.
The WHO team will conduct its investigation amid difficult political backdrop, with Chinese officials stepping up efforts to suggest the virus could have originated outside the country. One theory suggested by Chinese experts is that the virus may have arrived via frozen food, a possibility the WHO team said it would explore.
Mr Pompeo has previously promoted, without providing evidence, the possibility that the virus came from a laboratory leak.
The difficulty of the task of the WHO team will be made worse by a one-year delay in being able to travel to Wuhan. Huanan Seafood Market, one of the earliest known sites linked to early infections, has been closed.
The dominant theory among scientists researching the origins of the virus is that it originated from horseshoe bats, which were founded to carry a coronavirus similar to the variation found in humans. However, many questions remain about when and how bats are transmitted to humans.
Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO health emergencies program, said this week that the investigation would look for answers that could save us in the future and that it was “not about finding someone to blame” .
The team arrived from Singapore and were greeted by local authorities in hazmat suits.
Additional reporting by Nian Liu in Beijing
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