It’s been over a year now, yet countries around the world are still asking the same question: exactly how did the coronavirus pandemic start? The World Health Organization is finally about to get some answers.
Early Thursday morning, the WHO arrived in Wuhan to investigate the origins of the novel coronavirus after nearly a year of bureaucratic delays. Despite the unnecessary tone of the current U.S. administration, China had been sidestepping similar allegations from several countries increasingly anxious to know how the pandemic started.
Who is WHO?
The thirteen-expert team consists of virologists, epidemiologists, microbiologists, zoologists, and infectious disease experts from around the world.
Peter Ben Embarek is the leader of the WHO coalition, spearheading a push to “advance a number of studies that were already designed and decided upon some months ago to get us a better understanding of what happened,” he explained. Although Embarek doesn’t think they’ll initially have clear answers as to how the coronavirus pandemic started, Embarek believes his team of experts “will be well on the way”.
Out of the thirteen experts who successfully made it into Wuhan, seven are scientists from a specialist panel solely focused on determining the origins of deadly viruses. Five experts are working directly for the WHO alongside one expert from the World Organization of Animal Health. The other five experts are participating in the study remotely.
Vietnamese biologist Hung Nguyen is an expert in wet market food safety and part of the WHO team. “My understanding is in fact there is no limit in accessing information we might need for the team,” said Hung, also tasked with interviewing people from various research institutes & hospitals.
The thirteen-member team of WHO experts are not planning on considering President Donald Trump’s theory that COVID-19 was unleashed from a secretive lab. They are, however, prepared to investigate how the wet market is linked to the earliest coronavirus outbreaks.
The WHO experts will additionally deal with Chinese authorities whose government has spent the entire coronavirus pandemic perpetuating claims the virus never originated from Wuhan in the first place.
From the beginning of their journey, there were fears China was working to obstruct the WHO in order to prevent discoveries proving their missteps. Two members of the WHO were barred from entry after testing positive for antibodies in Singapore. The rest of the team arrived in hazmat suits & were immediately placed on a 14-day quarantine, despite all fifteen scientists testing negative for a current infection.
Less than a week ago, other members of the WHO team were not allowed entry into China after Beijing informed them they didn’t receive valid visas. The Australian government called for their own inquiry and were met with Chinese import blockages of their wine, beef, and other goods. Further retaliation came in the form of conspiracy theories that tainted seafood was to blame.
Though scientists believe the wet market was not in fact the origin of the disease, it’s now considered the location of a superspreader event which could better explain how the coronavirus pandemic could’ve started.
Even before arriving in China, Embarek and his team have struggled to detach themselves from the political ties inevitably attached to their research. In the early weeks of the coronavirus pandemic, the WHO endured a barrage of criticism from several countries after allegedly deferring to China.
Despite China’s apprehension concerning WHO discovering something before they do, it’s ultimately in their best interest to be “very transparent and collaborative”, said Shin-Ru Shih, a director at Taiwan’s Chang Gung University’s Research Center for Emerging Viral Infections.
What do you think it will take for China to come clean with the WHO? Let us know in the comments!