WHO experts go to China to investigate origins of COVID-19

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Two of World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) experts have gone to the Chinese capital Beijing last Friday to lay the groundwork for an investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.

An animal health expert and an epidemiologist is scheduled to meet Chinese counterparts in Beijing to work out logistics, places to visit and the participants for a WHO-led international mission, the U.N. organization said.

“A major issue will be to look at whether or not it jumped from species to human, and what species it jumped from,” WHO spokesperson Dr. Margaret Harris said at a briefing in Geneva.

Scientists believe the virus may have originated in bats and was transmitted to another mammal such as a civet cat or an armadillo-like pangolin before being passed on to people.

A cluster of infections late last year focused initial attention on a fresh food market in central Wuhan City, China, but the discovery of earlier cases suggests the animal-to-human jump may have happened elsewhere.

In an effort to block future outbreaks, China has cracked down on the trade in wildlife and closed some markets, while enforcing strict containment measures that appear to have virtually stopped new local infections.

The WHO mission is politically sensitive, with the U.S. — the top funder of the U.N. body — moving to cut ties with it over allegations it mishandled the outbreak and is biased toward China.

“China took the lead in inviting WHO experts to investigate and discuss scientific virus tracing,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said Friday.

In contrast, he said, the U.S. “not only announced its withdrawal from the World Health Organization, but also politicized the anti-epidemic issue and played a buck-passing game to shift responsibilities.”

The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Thursday (July 9) published an updated version of its March 29 scientific brief, ‘Modes of transmission of virus causing COVID-19: implications for infection prevention and control (IPC) precaution recommendations’, which it said included “new scientific evidence available on transmission of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19”.

In the brief, the WHO has formally acknowledged the possibility that the novel coronavirus can remain in the air in crowded indoor spaces, where “short-range aerosol transmission… cannot be ruled out”.

The updated brief has come three days after a group of 239 scientists from 32 countries published a commentary titled ‘It is Time to Address Airborne Transmission of COVID-19’, in which they issued an “appeal to the medical community and to the relevant national and international bodies to recognize the potential for airborne spread of COVID-19”./Stacy Ang with reports from Associated Press

 

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