A World Health Organization-led team looking for clues into the origins of COVID-19 warned that it’s unlikely their mission to the Chinese city of Wuhan will provide all the answers.
“We’re not going to come up with the ultimate full understanding of the origins of this virus, but it will be a good first step,” said Peter Ben Embarek, who is the WHO’s top expert on zoonotic diseases that originate in animals, Agence Frace Press reported.
Hung Nguyen-Viet, co-leader of the Animal and Human Health Program of the International Livestock Research Institute in Nairobi, Kenya, also attempted to temper expectations from the long-awaited visit to the original epicenter of the pandemic.
“I keep saying that we need to be realistic, a short mission like this one will not have all the answers but it helps advance the understanding of the #virusorigin #wuhan,” he wrote in a tweet.
But Peter Daszak, a zoologist and animal disease expert, insisted the team has made headway since arriving in China.
“I’m seeing a picture coming through of some of the scenarios looking more plausible than before,” Daszak said.
One possibility being closely looked at by the group is whether the virus could have been spreading elsewhere long before it was first identified in Wuhan.
“That’s something our group is looking at very intensely to see what level of community transmission could have been happening earlier,” Daszak said.
“The real work we are doing here is to trace back from the first cases back to an animal reservoir, and that’s a much more convoluted path, and may have happened over a number of months or even years.”
The team has been to hospitals, seafood markets and research facilities during their trip — including paying a visit Wednesday to Wuhan Institute of Virology, the lab at the center of unfounded speculation that it was the source of the pandemic.
“Extremely important meeting today with staff at WIV including Dr Shi Zhengli. Frank, open discussion. Key questions asked & answered.,” Daszak tweeted.
Daszak later told Reuters that there was no evidence to suggest COVID-19 emerged from a lab.
However, the investigators have only so far been to visits organized by their Chinese hosts.
“It is of course impossible to know what you are not being told, but what I am seeing in China, and what this group is seeing in China, is that what we asked for, we are being allowed to do,” Daszak said.
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