Determining the source of an outbreak requires a great deal of research, including animal samples, genetic analysis, and epidemiological studies
Experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) ended the mandatory quarantine period at the end of January after entering China, and then began their field investigation into the origin of Covid-19, first detected in late 2019. , in the city of Wuhan, capital of central Hubei province.
Now, according to Bloomberg, researchers have “important clues” at hand about the role of a Wuhan seafood market in the initial outbreak, considered the first major outbreak of the pandemic and which ended on January 1, 2020.
Peter Daszak, one of the experts involved in the investigation, adds that the main conclusions are expected to be released later this week. “I think we will be able to say something of value at the end of this trip, of great value,” he said, without saying what, but adding that the visit to the Huanan market was particularly useful. Although the market was closed and cleaned almost immediately after the first cases were stopped, it is “quite intact”. “The people left in a hurry and left the equipment, the utensils, left evidence of what was going on and that’s what we looked at”.
“It is the beginning of what is expected to be a really deep understanding of what happened so that we can stop the next [pandemic],” says the zoologist, from New York. “That’s what it is all about – trying to understand why these things emerge so that we don’t have and continue to experience global economic crashes and horrible mortality rates while we wait for vaccines”, adds the scientist who does not hesitate to say that this research represents a turning point in pandemic mitigation.
WHO has requested authorization from China to travel to Wuhan to help “identify the zoonotic origin of the virus and the route of introduction into the human population, including the role of possible intermediate hosts”. The experts’ visit comes after lengthy negotiations with Beijing, which included a rare reprimand by the WHO, which said that China was taking too long to give the investigation a green light.
The successive delays imposed by China have been seen as a warning sign that the first traces of the infection can be quite difficult to find, especially in Wuhan, the city that reported the first death associated with the new coronavirus on January 11, 2020.
China has been criticized internationally for its initial reaction to the epidemic, with several doctors in Wuhan who evoked the existence of the virus been accused by the police of “spreading rumors”.
Even the name of the first deadly victim of covid-19 remains unknown, knowing that he was only a 61-year-old man who frequented the Wuhan market.
The lack of a clear path from bats to humans led, early on, to speculation that the origin of the pandemic would be the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which is one of the main virus research laboratories in China and which has built an archive of genetic information on coronavirus in bats after the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome in 2003.
This led to claims that the coronavirus could have left those facilities by accident, but Peter Daszak is among the numerous scientists who refute this theory. The laboratory was, nevertheless, one of the places visited by the WHO team. “We really have to cover all lines of investigation”, considers Daszak, adding that this has been done by his hosts.
As recently as last week, the zoologist had praised China’s high level of cooperation, advancing on Twitter that Wednesday’s meeting with the Wuhan Institute of Virology team, including Deputy Director Shi Zhengli, had resulted in a “Frank and open discussion”. “The main questions we asked were answered,” wrote Daszak.