WHO team arrive in Wuhan to investigate origins of virus as China records first death in 8 months

Sophia Yan
·2 min read
The majority of the WHO team have landed in Wuhan, home to the Huanan Seafood Market, which is believed to be ground zero of the Covid-19 pandemic - Dake Kang /AP
The majority of the WHO team have landed in Wuhan, home to the Huanan Seafood Market, which is believed to be ground zero of the Covid-19 pandemic - Dake Kang /AP

An international team of scientists led by the World Health Organization to investigate the origins of coronavirus has landed in Wuhan, though two have been delayed after failing to pass Beijing’s health-screening requirements.

Two members of the WHO mission were barred by Chinese officials from boarding a flight to Wuhan after testing positive for antibodies during a final layover in Singapore, where they remain to be retested.

Antibodies can be detected after infection, but can also develop within a week of symptoms onset.

All experts on the trip, however, had received multiple negative results from nucleic acid and antibody tests in their home countries prior to travelling, said the WHO.

The 13 scientists that arrived as planned have begun a two-week quarantine, during which they’re expected to hold video meetings with Chinese counterparts. After undergoing additional Covid-19 tests, they will then spend an additional two weeks interviewing people from research institutes, hospitals and the seafood market in Wuhan, where initial infections were discovered.

A delay in getting all of the scientists into China is the latest glitch to plague a politically sensitive mission that has already suffered from several setbacks and took months to negotiate between the WHO and Beijing.

China rejected demands for an international investigation and even blocked imports of Australian goods after Canberra led the push for an independent inquiry into virus origins.

Beijing’s propaganda campaign to claim the coronavirus existed abroad before it was discovered in Wuhan – aimed at deflecting global anger over its pandemic mishandling – has sparked further concerns that the government would whitewash the investigation.

Coronavirus China Spotlight Chart - Cases default
Coronavirus China Spotlight Chart - Cases default

Authorities have blamed the presence of the virus on imported frozen food packaging for bringing the virus into the country. Chinese state media claimed on Thursday that patient zero in the latest outbreak, centered around Beijing, was infected with an imported virus strain after touching a contaminated package of steamed buns.

Last year, the Chinese foreign ministry suggested that the US military brought infections into Wuhan, a claim that was widely ridiculed.

Officials are now racing to contain the latest outbreak just weeks ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday when millions of people are expected to travel to celebrate with friends and family.

On Wednesday, China recorded its first coronavirus death in eight months as infections topped 138 new cases, the highest one-day jump since early March 2020.

Since mid-December, when infections sparked again, 1,055 infections have been discovered.

Authorities are taking no chances, putting 28 million people under strict quarantine. In Shijiazhuang, the city currently hardest-hit with infections, authorities have begun building a temporary quarantine facility that will have 3,000 individual units, in addition to mass testing and designating hospitals to handle Covid-19 patients.