WHO team visits Wuhan virus lab at centre of speculation

Peter Daszak makes a call on a foggy day before leaving his hotel with other members of a World Health Organization team for another day of field visit in Wuhan in central China’s Hubei province Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021. The WHO team is investigating the origins of the coronavirus pandemic has visited two disease control centers in the province. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)Peter Daszak makes a call on a foggy day before leaving his hotel with other members of a World Health Organization team for another day of field visit in Wuhan in central China’s Hubei province Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021. The WHO team is investigating the origins of the coronavirus pandemic has visited two disease control centers in the province. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
Members of a World Health Organization team leave their hotel on a foggy day for another day of field visit in Wuhan in central China’s Hubei province on Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021. The WHO team is investigating the origins of the coronavirus pandemic has visited two disease control centers in the province. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)Members of a World Health Organization team leave their hotel on a foggy day for another day of field visit in Wuhan in central China’s Hubei province on Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021. The WHO team is investigating the origins of the coronavirus pandemic has visited two disease control centers in the province. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
Security personnel stand guard near the Wuhan Institute of Virology after a World Health Organization team arrived for a field visit in Wuhan in China’s Hubei province Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021. The WHO team is investigating the origins of the coronavirus pandemic has visited two disease control centers in the province. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)Security personnel stand guard near the Wuhan Institute of Virology after a World Health Organization team arrived for a field visit in Wuhan in China’s Hubei province Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021. The WHO team is investigating the origins of the coronavirus pandemic has visited two disease control centers in the province. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

World Health Organization investigators on Wednesday visited a research centre in the Chinese city of Wuhan that has been the subject of speculation about the origins of the coronavirus, with one member saying they’d intended to meet key staff and press them on critical issues.

The WHO team’s visit to the Wuhan Institute of Virology was a highlight of their mission to gather data and search for clues as to where the virus originated and how it spread.

“We’re looking forward to meeting with all the key people here and asking all the important questions that need to be asked,” zoologist and team member Peter Daszak said, according to footage run by Japanese broadcaster TBS.

Reporters followed the team to the high security facility, but as with past visits, there was little direct access to team members, who have given scant details of their discussions and visits thus far. Uniformed and plainclothes security guards stood watch along the facility’s gated front entrance, but there was no sign of the protective suits team members had donned Tuesday during a visit to an animal disease research centre. It wasn’t clear what protective gear was worn inside the institute.

The team left after around three hours without speaking to waiting journalists.

ALSO READ: Up to 100 Red Cross staff to be deployed in B.C.’s long-term care homes: Dix

At a daily briefing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said the experts also held talks Wednesday with experts from Huazhong Agricultural University.

“It should be noted that virus traceability is a complex scientific issue, and we need to provide sufficient space for experts to conduct scientific research,” Wang said. “China will continue to co-operate with WHO in an open, transparent and responsible manner, and make its contribution to better prevent future risks and protect the lives and health of people in all countries.”

Following two weeks in quarantine, the WHO team that includes experts in veterinary medicine, virology, food safety and epidemiology from 10 nations has over the past six days visited hospitals, research institutes and a traditional wet market linked to many of the first cases. Their visit followed months of negotiations as China seeks to retain tight control over information about the outbreak and the investigation into its origins, in what some have seen as an attempt to avoid blame for any missteps in its early response.

One of China’s top virus research labs, the Wuhan Institute of Virology built an archive of genetic information about bat coronaviruses after the 2003 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. That has led to unproven allegations that it may have a link to the original outbreak of COVID-19 in Wuhan in late 2019.

China has strongly denied that possibility and has promoted also unproven theories that the virus may have originated elsewhere or even been brought into the country from overseas with imports of frozen seafood tainted with the virus, a notion roundly rejected by international scientists and agencies.

The institute’s deputy director is Shi Zhengli, a virologist who worked with Daszak to track down the origins of SARS that originated in China and led to the 2003 outbreak. She has published widely in academic journalists and worked to debunk theories espoused by the former Trump administration and other American officials that the virus is either a bioweapon or a “lab leak” from the institute.

ALSO READ: Don’t post photos of vaccination cards on social media, BBB advises

Confirmation of the origins of the virus is likely to take years. Pinning down an outbreak’s animal reservoir typically requires exhaustive research, including taking animal samples, genetic analysis and epidemiological studies. One possibility is that a wildlife poacher might have passed the virus to traders who carried it to Wuhan.

The first clusters of COVID-19 were detected in Wuhan in late 2019, eventually prompting the government to put the city of 11 million under a strict 76-day lockdown. China has since reported more than 89,000 cases and 4,600 deaths, with new cases largely concentrated in its northeast and local lockdowns and travel restrictions being imposed to contain the outbreaks.

New cases of local transmission continue to fall with just 15 reported on Wednesday as Chinese heed government calls not to travel for the Lunar New Year holiday later this month.

Emily Wang Fujiyama, The Associated Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

ChinaCoronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A health care worker prepares to test a Coastal GasLink field worker for COVID-19. (Coastal GasLink photo)
Coastal GasLink begins COVID screening of pipeline workers

Construction is once again ramping up following Northern Health approval of COVID management plan

FILE – A COVID-19 vaccine being prepared. (Olivia Sullivan/Sound Publishing)
B.C. seniors 80 years and older to get COVID vaccine details over next 2 weeks: Henry

Province is expanding vaccine workforce as officials ramp up age-based rollout

Chris Paulson of Burns Lake took a quick selfie with a lynx over the weekend of Feb. 20-22, 2021, after the wild cat was found eating some of his chickens. (Chris Paulson/Facebook)
VIDEO: Burns Lake man grabs lynx by scruff after chickens attacked

‘Let’s see the damage you did, buddy,’ Chris Paulson says to the wild cat

Design work continues for planned new hospital

Construction contract still in the works

Northern Health has declared a COVID-19 outbreak at Brucejack mine, 65 km north of Stewart on Feb. 11, 2021. (Pretivm Photo)
Northern Health has declared a COVID-19 outbreak at Brucejack Mine, 65 kilometres north of Stewart on Feb. 11, 2021. (Pretivm Photo)
Northern Health reports 20 more COVID-19 cases in outbreak at Brucejack Mine

So far, 42 people have tested positive, nine cases are active and self-isolating onsite

Dr. Bonnie Henry leaves the podium after talking about the next steps in B.C.’s COVID-19 Immunization Plan during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, January 22, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
COVID: 589 new cases in B.C., and 7 new deaths

No new outbreaks being reported Feb. 26

Staff from the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre, passersby, RCMP and Nanaimo Fire Rescue carried a sick 300-kilogram steller sea lion up the steep bluff at Invermere Beach in north Nanaimo in an attempt to save the animal’s life Thursday. (Photo courtesy Marine Mammal Rescue Centre)
300-kilogram sea lion muscled up from B.C. beach in rescue attempt

Animal dies despite efforts of Nanaimo marine mammal rescue team, emergency personnel and bystanders

Gina Adams as she works on her latest piece titled ‘Undying Love’. (Submitted photo)
‘Toothless’ the kitty inspires B.C. wood carver to break out the chainsaw

Inspired by plight of a toothless cat, Gina Adams offers proceeds from her artwork to help animals

B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson presents bill to delay B.C.’s budget as late as April 30, and allow further spending before that, B.C. legislature, Dec. 8, 2020. (Hansard TV)
How big is B.C.’s COVID-19 deficit? We’ll find out April 20

More borrowing expected as pandemic enters second year

The first of 11 Dash 8 Q400 aircraft's have arrived in Abbotsford. Conair Group Inc. will soon transform them into firefighting airtankers. (Submitted)
Abbotsford’s Conair begins airtanker transformation

Aerial firefighting company creating Q400AT airtanker in advance of local forest fire season

The Canada Revenue Agency says there were 32 tax fraud convictions across the country between April 2019 and March 2020. (Pixabay)
Vancouver man sentenced to 29 months, fined $645K for tax evasion, forgery

Michael Sholz reportedly forged documents to support ineligible tax credits linked to homeownership

Then-Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson looks on as MLA Shirley Bond answers questions during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria. (Chad Hipolito / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
B.C. Liberal party to choose next leader in February 2022

Candidates have until Nov. 30 to declare whether they are running

After nearly 10 months of investigations, Mounties have made an arrest in the tripping of an elderly woman in Burnaby this past April. (RCMP handout)
VIDEO: Mounties charge suspect for tripping elderly woman near Metrotown in April

32-year-old Hayun Song is accused of causing bodily harm to an 84-year-old using her walker

British Columbia provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry arrives to view the Murals of Gratitude exhibition in Vancouver, on Friday, July 3, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Death threats mount against Dr. Bonnie Henry, sparking condemnation from Horgan, Dix

Henry has become a staple on televisions in homes across British Columbia since January 2020

Most Read