Organization) experts entered the country to trace the source of the global new crown epidemic, worrying that such investigations may arouse people's attention to the government's early response to the epidemic.
After a wave of global opposition, the Chinese government finally let go and allowed a team of 14 scientists to visit laboratories, disease control centers and live markets in Wuhan in the past 12 days.
But on Tuesday, WHO experts did not criticize Chinese officials, but praised them and recognized key parts of their narrative, including some controversial claims.
The WHO expert group is open to a theory promoted by Chinese officials that the virus may have been transmitted to humans through cold-chain food transportation. Among scientists outside China, this view is hardly supported.There are reports that in the months before the outbreak in Wuhan at the end of 2019, the virus may have emerged outside of China. Experts have promised to investigate this. This is a long-standing request of Chinese officials.
"We should indeed look for evidence of early transmission, no matter where it is," Marion Koopmans, a Dutch virologist in the WHO expert group.
Koopmans said at a three-hour press conference in Wuhan.At the meeting, experts and Chinese scientists jointly announced their preliminary findings.
Some scientists worry that shifting their attention to other countries may cause the investigation to lose focus.They believe that determining what happened in the early stages of the outbreak in China is crucial to avoiding another outbreak.
The expert team also downplayed the idea that the virus may have been accidentally leaked by a laboratory operated by China. Even some skeptical scientists believe that this view is worth exploring.This theory is different from the claim that Chinese laboratories promoted by some U.S. Republicans made the virus as a biological weapon, which has been widely questioned.
The World Health Organization is designed to be constrained by its member states. When dealing with the Chinese government, which is known for resisting external supervision, it has long adopted diplomatic methods.The investigation is still in its early stages and may last for several years. WHO officials promised to conduct strict and transparent reviews of data and research in China and other countries.
Despite this, the findings of the investigation announced on Tuesday brought Beijing a public relations victory, and it is currently being criticized by officials in the United States and other countries for its initial cover-up of the epidemic.
"This is the most authoritative support China has received in its official narrative," the Council on Foreign Relations (Council on Foreign Relations)
Relations) said Huang Yanzhong, a senior researcher on global health issues.
Huang Yanzhong said that the WHO should continue to pressure China to provide data and investigation channels.
"One visit is too late to conduct a full investigation," he said. "All their work is carried out within the scope permitted by the Chinese government."
The expert group did not report a major breakthrough discovery, but said it found important clues.Experts said the virus had spread in Wuhan a few weeks before it appeared in the South China Seafood Wholesale Market, which reported some of the earliest clusters of cases.The virus is likely to appear in bats and then spread to humans through another small mammal, but experts say they are still unable to determine what species it is.
"All work on the virus and trying to confirm its origin is directed to a natural host," said Peter K. Ben Ambarek, a WHO food safety scientist.
Embarek) said at a press conference that he is the head of the expert group.
Dr. Ben Ambarek said,virus"It is extremely unlikely" from a laboratory in Wuhan that studies bat coronaviruses.
The team met with the head of the Wuhan Virus Research Institute last week, which has the most advanced laboratory.Ben Ambarek quoted the safety regulations there as saying, "Nothing can escape from such a place."
On Tuesday, WHO experts tried to focus on the scientific aspects of the mission in their speeches.But this investigation is often overshadowed by politics.
Some officials in the United States and other Western countries have questioned the independence of the WHO investigation, believing that China is seeking to control the results.The government has repeatedly postponed the visits of WHO experts and tried to limit the scope of their tasks.The Chinese authorities firmly control domestic research related to the virus, raising concerns that they might try to prevent embarrassing information release.
The Chinese government tried to shift its attention to other places, continuing to imply that the virus may originate overseas.Cui Tiankai, the Chinese ambassador to the United States, recently suggested that the United States should also allow the World Health Organization to send personnel there to conduct investigations.
At a press conference on Tuesday, Chinese officials vigorously promoted the view that the virus came from outside the country, claiming that efforts to find the source of the virus should focus on places outside of China.
The investigation will be "not limited to any location," said Liang Wannian, the head of the team of Chinese scientists who assisted the WHO investigation.He said that Chinese researchers found no evidence that the virus spread in China on a large scale before December 2019.
In Washington, State Department spokesperson Ned Price
Price) said at a press conference that the United States will wait to see the report of the World Health Organization before it concludes on its findings and Beijing’s transparency with investigators.
WHO members said that during their visit to Wuhan, they tried to avoid politics and promised to ask sharp questions.In Wuhan, they underwent quarantine for two weeks before starting their field work, accepted interviews by the news media, and were photographed to be tested for the new coronavirus.They brought more transparency to the visit through social media, posting photos and comments of their conversations with Chinese scientists.
Experts have repeatedly praised their Chinese counterparts, saying that the government has sincerely cooperated to allow them to enter important locations such as laboratories and markets.At the press conference on Tuesday, the experts were friendly and did not question the speech of the Chinese host.
In the coming months, the team will face pressure not only to solve difficult scientific problems, but also to prove that they are conducting a fair and difficult investigation.
Daniel R. Lucy, an infectious disease expert at Georgetown University
Lucey) said, "China's current strategic narrative is,'This is the Chinese part of the investigation. We have completed it. Let's turn it over.'"
Lucy said that experts need to make a breakthrough to prove its credibility.
He also said, "If the team does not come up with something substantial, there is a risk that people will say that all this is just a show."
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