CAPE TOWN – The mission to uncover the origins of the coronavirus has begun.
The mission, a World Health Organisation (WHO) led collaboration between international and Chinese experts has been labeled a “political investigation” by some virologists.
According to media reports, the WHO has agreed that key parts of the inquiry;about the first patients in China and the market’s role in the outbreak will be led by Chinese Scientists.
“WHO experts will review and augment, rather than duplicate studies undertaken by China,” reported the New York Times.
On Friday the WHO team met online with their Chinese counterparts to launch the inquiry.
WHO health emergencies programme executive director Mike Ryan says the virtual meeting was an important first step in a “politically intoxicated environment”.
“Unfortunately, this has become a political investigation,” said Wang Linfa, an Australian virologist in Singapore who helped identify bats as the hosts of the first SARS coronavirus. “Whatever they do is symbolic.”
Although initially it was agreed that many cases were linked to the market in Wuhan, many scientists no longer believe it is where the outbreak began.
Beijing has meanwhile pushed back on suggestions that the virus emerged in China, with diplomats and top scientists including leading infectious disease expert Zhong Nanshan saying that just because the virus was first identified in China does not mean that was where it emerged.
The mission is expected to include both medical and animal health experts affiliated not just with the WHO but also the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the World Organisation for Animal Health, along with specialists from other countries.
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