WHO's team visits Wuhan hospital where first patients were treated

WHO’s Covid investigation team visits Wuhan hospital where first coronavirus patients were treated and interviews Chinese scientists as probe begins – but is yet to visit lab at the centre of ‘leak’ theories

  • WHO team is taking part in its first full day of investigations into origins of Covid
  • Medics are today visiting a hospital in Wuhan that was first to treat patients 
  • They also met with Chinese scientists to discuss their work combatting the virus 
  • WHO has warned ‘there is no guarantee of answers’ amid fears China could hide potentially embarrassing or incriminating evidence 

A team of medics from the World Health Organization has embarked upon its first full day investigating the origins of Covid in China.

The 13-strong team of international experts travelled to a hospital in Hubei province on Friday which was the first to treat Covid patients and interviewed Chinese researchers working on the virus.

While the WHO insisted yesterday that the team will eventually visit a lab at the centre of theories that the virus was leaked, it has not published a timetable and there is no indication of when that might take place. 

The team had previously been confined to a hotel in the epicentre city of Wuhan while they waited out a 14-day mandatory quarantine, which ended Thursday. They were allowed to interview Chinese medics over video chat during this time.

But as the world waits for results, the WHO has cautioned there is ‘no guarantee of answers’ amid fears that China will seek to hide information it finds embarrassing or incriminating from the researchers.

A 13-strong team of WHO scientists is taking part in its first full day of investigations into the origins of coronavirus in China after completing a 14-day hotel quarantine

The team met with Chinese scientists and researchers first thing on Friday for interviews to discuss their work on battling the disease

The team then travelled to the Hubei Provincial Hospital of Integrated Chinese and Western Medicine to speak with doctors who first treated Covid patients

The team are now expected to visit the lab at the centre of rumours the virus was leaked, but no timetable has been given for this trip 

China’s official timeline vs new evidence

Official timeline 

Dec 8, 2019 – Earliest date that China has acknowledged an infection

Dec 31 – China first reported ‘pneumonia of unknown cause’ to the World Health Organisation

Jan 1, 2020 – Wuhan seafood market closed for disinfection

Jan 11 – China reported its first death 

Jan 23 – Wuhan locked down

Jan 31 – WHO declared ‘outbreak of international concern’ as China admitted having thousands of cases

Feb 23 – Italy reports cluster of cases in first major outbreak in the West 

New evidence 

Sep 2019– Blood samples are taken in a lung cancer screening trial in Italy which later test positive for coronavirus

Oct-Dec – Rise in ‘flu and pneumonia’ cases in northern Italy which could be linked to coronavirus  

Nov – Sewage samples taken in Florianópolis, Brazil, suggest virus was present

Nov 10 – Milanese woman has a skin biopsy, producing a sample which later shows signs of the virus  

Nov 17 – Leaked documents suggest case detected in China on this date

Dec 1 – Chinese researchers report an infection on this date in a peer-reviewed study, but it has not been acknowledged by Beijing 

Dec 18 – Sewage samples taken in Milan and Turin suggest virus was circulating in the cities 

Jan 2020 – Sewage samples from Barcelona suggest virus was in the city

Beijing has already been accused by medics within its own country of covering up the initial spread of Covid, while its diplomats have jumped on any excuse to point the finger of blame for the virus overseas.

Officially, the WHO team is in the country to investigate the origins of Covid – including the possibility it started overseas – though a vast majority of international experts believe China was the source.

Pictures showed the WHO team arriving at the Hubei Provincial Hospital of Integrated Chinese and Western Medicine on Friday, where doctor Zhang Jixian as the first to report ‘an unknown pneumonia’ in an elderly couple in late 2019 

‘Extremely important 1st site visit. We are in the hospital that treated some of the first known cases of COVID-19, meeting with the actual clinicians & staff who did this work, having open discussion about the details of their work,’ Peter Daszak, a British member of the WHO-led team, wrote on Twitter.

While big question marks remain over where exactly the team will be allowed to go and who they will be allowed to speak with during their visit, the WHO did disclose some detail on Thursday.

The UN body confirmed that the team will visit the Wuhan Institute of Virology which has been accused of leaking the virus by some. 

The team also plans to visit the seafood market at the centre of the early outbreak, though this has been widely discounted as the source of the virus.

Investigators have been plagued by delays, concern over access and bickering between China and the United States.

America has accused China of hiding the extent of the initial outbreak and criticised the terms of the visit, which saw Chinese experts conduct the initial research.

The WHO has sought to manage expectations. ‘There are no guarantees of answers,’ its emergency chief, Mike Ryan, said this month.

The investigating team had been set to arrive in Wuhan earlier in January, and China’s delay of their visit drew rare public criticism from the head of the WHO, which former U.S. President Donald Trump accused of being ‘China-centric’.

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, Zhao Lijian, said on Friday that WHO and Chinese experts were working together to trace the origin of the virus, but stressed that the mission was not a probe.

‘It is part of a global research, not an investigation,’ Zhao told a regular news conference in Beijing.

China has pushed the idea that the virus existed abroad before it was discovered in Wuhan, with state media citing the presence of the virus on imported frozen food packaging and scientific papers saying it had been circulating in Europe in 2019.

China’s foreign ministry has also hinted that the sudden closure of a U.S. army laboratory at Fort Detrick in Maryland in July 2019 was linked to the pandemic.

‘At the early stage in China, it was a burden particularly for Wuhan people when everyone was calling it a Wuhan virus, which was humiliating,’ said Yang You, a 30-year-old Wuhan resident. 

‘If it could be traced to the source clearly, in my opinion, it could clear either China’s or Wuhan’s name.’

Multiple countries have uncovered evidence that the virus was circulating months earlier than originally thought. While Beijing has tried to insist this proves the virus originated elsewhere, most scientists still think China was the origin – raising the prospect that communist officials simply hid evidence of the early spread

Chinese scientists and officials have been keen to point the finger of blame outside their own borders – variously suggesting that the virus could have originated in Bangladesh, the US, Greece, Australia, India, Italy, Czech Republic, Russia or Serbia  

Chinese officials go for lunch after meeting with members of World Health Organization (WHO) at Hilton hotel, in Wuhan

Security guards prevent journalists from following after a car that’s part of a convoy carrying the World Health Organization team of researchers as they arrive at Hubei hospital

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