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WHO team meets with Chinese scientists as COVID investigation begins

 A team of experts from the World Health Organization began its long-awaited investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic on Friday, meeting with a group of Chinese scientists in Wuhan ahead of a series of field visits to hospitals, laboratories and the now closed Huanan. market, which was linked to the first cases of the disease in the central Chinese city.

"All hypotheses are on the table as the team follows the science in their work to understand the origins of the COVID-19 virus," WHO said in a tweet, emphasizing that experts "must be supported, accessed and supported. the data they need. " . "

The group emerged from two weeks of hotel quarantine on Thursday, during which they held daily virtual meetings with Chinese scientists who shared information on coronavirus studies completed in China. They also requested "more detailed underlying data," the UN health agency said.

The first cases of what was then a new "mystery" pneumonia were reported in Wuhan in late December 2019.

WHO team meets with Chinese scientists as COVID investigation begins

While life in the city has almost returned to normal after a total lockdown that ended the virus, the rising death toll and economic damage to the rest of the world increases the pressure to find out where COVID-19 came from. and how it came about. made the leap to humans.

“First face-to-face meeting with our colleagues. Correction: mask to mask given medical restrictions. Talking about our visiting schedule, ”Marion Koopmans, a virologist at Erasmus University Medical Center in the Netherlands, tweeted on Friday.

“The leader of the China team, Professor Wannian, jokes about some glitches. It's good to see our colleagues after long zoom meetings, ”he said.

Koopmans previously told Al Jazeera that the plan was to get "the best possible picture of the initial finds in Wuhan" and cautioned that there would be no quick or easy answers.

Pandemic policy

The team works in a context of concern for access and transparency. The United States accused China of covering up the scope of the initial outbreak and criticized the terms of the visit, according to which Chinese scientists carried out the first phase of the investigation.

"It is important to remember that the success of this mission and origin tracing is 100 percent dependent on access to relevant sources," Thea Fischer, a Danish member of the team, told Reuters news agency on Thursday.

"No matter how competent we are, how hard we work and how many stones we try to convert, this can only be possible with the support of China," she said.

The group is expected to spend two more weeks in the country. Besides visiting Huanan, he also hoped to go to the Wuhan Institute of Virology. One theory, rejected by China, is that the outbreak was caused by a leak in the government laboratory.

Since the outbreak made world headlines a year ago, China has sought to take control of the narrative, cracking down on doctors and citizen journalists in Wuhan and warning families of the dead not to speak to the media.

It has also tried to push the idea that the virus came from elsewhere, with regular reports in state media that traces of the virus are found in packages of frozen food imported from abroad. It has also sought to highlight the small number of scientific papers that have suggested that COVID was circulating in Europe in 2019.

The Foreign Office has also hinted that the sudden closure of a U.S. Army laboratory at Fort Detrick in Maryland in July 2019 was linked to the pandemic.

"In the early stage in China, it was particularly a burden to the people of Wuhan when everyone called it the Wuhan virus, which was humiliating," Yang You, a 30-year-old city resident, told Reuters. "If it could be clearly traced back to the source, in my opinion, it could erase either the Chinese name or the Wuhan name."

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