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Explosive explanations: Wuhan expert report is delayed

Explosive explanations
Wuhan expert report delayed

It is evidently a mission with obstacles. It first takes a while until the WHO experts can travel to Wuhan to find the cause of the corona pandemic. Now the publication of their findings is dragging on.

The report on the search for the origins of the novel corona virus in Wuhan, China, was actually expected last week. However, the publication is delayed, as was the WHO mission itself in January. The experts sent to China by the World Health Organization may present their theses this week on how the virus could have passed from animals to humans. Your explanations are not only scientifically very interesting, but also politically extremely explosive.

Since the first corona cases in Wuhan in December 2019, more than 2.7 million infected people have died worldwide. The origin of the Covid-19 pathogen is still not clear.

It was only in January this year that an international team of experts put together by the WHO was allowed to travel to Wuhan. After a delay of several days, the experts arrived in the Chinese metropolis in mid-January. After a two-week quarantine, they only had just under two weeks to investigate.

No clear answer

At the final press conference on February 9 in Wuhan, it was already clear that international experts could not clearly determine the origin of the pandemic. In their report, however, they will set out the most likely transmission routes and possibly reject other hypotheses as unlikely.

Even before the WHO mission in Wuhan, there was broad agreement among scientists that Sars-CoV-2 originally occurred in bats and jumped over to humans via another animal. However, it is not known which animal species acted as intermediate hosts. No traces of the pathogen were found in samples from tens of thousands of wild, domestic and farm animals.

The head of the US organization EcoHealth Alliance, Peter Daszak, involved in the WHO mission, recently said the origins of the pandemic had been traced from Wuhan to southern Chinese provinces, where the closest relatives of the virus had been found in bats. This is an indication of the transmission path from wild animals to farm animals or directly to humans.

The team of experts also did not rule out the possibility of the virus being transmitted to humans via frozen meat. Importing the pathogen from neighboring provinces remains a “very sound option,” said the Dutch virologist Marion Koopmans, who is involved in the WHO mission. The thesis of frozen meat as a source of infection is preferred by the Chinese government; the WHO had described this explanatory approach as unlikely before the Wuhan mission.

At the press conference with her Chinese colleagues, Koopmans described the presumption expressed by former US President Donald Trump that the virus had escaped from the Institute of Virology in Wuhan as “the least likely on the list of our hypotheses”. After the experts returned, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus assured that all hypotheses would remain on the table. At the same time he promised transparency in the report.

Doubts remain

The USA has repeatedly expressed the fear that the WHO report would not be able to disclose all of the findings and indications. The Trump administration, in office until January, even accused the WHO of being a puppet of China. Beijing, on the other hand, emphasizes that the WHO mission in Wuhan was only possible thanks to China’s scientific cooperation.

The government of Trump’s successor Joe Biden has much better relations with the WHO, but expressed doubts about the transparency of the report and asked China for more information. The fact that the WHO abandoned its original plan to first publish a summary of the report without the underlying data and only later the long version, the USA booked as a partial success.

But doubts remain about the completeness and transparency of the WHO report. A few days after his return, the head of the Wuhan mission, Peter Embarek, complained about a lack of access to raw data in China. And the EU ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Walter Stevens, called for the report to be “completely transparent” and to answer all the questions “we have”.

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