Beijing: Two World Health Organisation (WHO) experts will spend the next two days in the Chinese capital here. The WHO experts will lay the groundwork for a larger mission to investigate the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.
One animal health expert and one epidemiologist will visit the Chinese capital. During their visit will work to fix the ‘scope and terms of reference’ for the future mission aimed at learning how the virus jumped from animals to humans. This information was given in a statement by the United Nations body, Thursday.
Origin of coronavirus
Scientists believe the virus may have originated in bats. Then the coronavirus was transmitted through another mammal such as a civet cat or an armadillo-like pangolin. Finally it was passed on to people at a fresh food market in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year.
In an effort to block future outbreaks, China has cracked down on the trade in wildlife. The Chinese government has closed some wet markets. It has also enforced strict containment measures that appear to have virtually stopped new local infections.
Politically sensitive mission
The WHO mission is politically sensitive, with the US – the organisation’s top funder – cutting ties with it. The US has alleged that the WHO has mishandled the outbreak and is biased toward China.
More than 120 nations called for an investigation into the origins of the virus at the World Health Assembly in May. China has insisted that WHO lead the investigation and for it to wait until the pandemic is brought under control.
The US, Brazil and India are continuing to see an increasing number of cases.
The last WHO coronavirus-specific mission to China was in February. After the visit the team’s leader, Canadian doctor Bruce Aylward, praised China’s containment efforts and information-sharing. Canadian and American officials have since criticised him as being too lenient on China.
Lack of transparency
An investigation by this agency showed that in January WHO officials were privately frustrated over the lack of transparency. Complaints included that China delayed releasing the genetic map, or genome, of the virus for more than a week. This happened after three different government labs had fully decoded the information.
Privately, top WHO leaders complained in meetings the week of January 6 that China was not sharing enough data. Hence it was difficult for WHO to assess how effectively the virus spread between people. It also failed to measure what risk the virus posed to the rest of the world, costing valuable time.