A team sent by the World Health Organization to investigate the origins of the coronavirus pandemic in Wuhan spent Monday at two disease control centers in the Chinese city that handled the earliest cases of the virus, as reported by the Associated Press. The WHO investigation in the city began in January, with the team previously visiting hospitals and a seafood market that saw the beginning stages of what became a global pandemic. Monday took them to the Hubei Provincial Center for Disease Control and its Wuhan city office as the team grapples with tight access to information from the Chinese government.
Details of the visit were limited, with WHO team member Peter Daszak only describing it as a "really good meeting, really important." The investigation is expected to take several years, with the end goal being the determination of the outbreak's animal sources. According to the report, this consists of taking animal samples, and performing genetic analysis and epidemiological studies.
The lack of details and strict security have been a regular part of the investigation. As The Guardian reported, the team's trip to Huanan market -- a location that became infamous after it was widely reported as a potential ground zero for the outbreak -- saw them accompanied by heavy security, with local authorities placing additional barricades outside a high blue fence surrounding the market.
"Very important site visits today – a wholesale market first & Huanan Seafood Market just now. Very informative & critical for our joint teams to understand the epidemiology of Covid as it started to spread at the end of 2019," Dazek shared on Twitter following the visit.
There is currently no timeline for the team's two weeks of fieldwork for the investigation, and journalists have been required to stay a distance away during this period. On Friday, the WHO revealed that health restrictions will prevent the team from having any contact with community members and all of the visits will be organized by their Chinese hosts.
The Chinese government has sought to avoid criticism for mistakes made during the early stages of the outbreak and also promoted theories that Wuhan was not the true origin point of the virus, suggesting it may have been brought in. The country was able to curb transmission through strict testing and contact tracing, almost universal mask-wearing, and lockdowns when new cases are detected. Monday saw the country report 33 new cases in three northeastern provinces. Despite their efforts, January saw the highest rates of infection since March, with more than 2,000 new domestic cases. There were also two deaths, the first in China for several months.