A team from the World Health Organization led by experts investigating the origin of Covid-19 visited the Huanan Market on Sunday, the now-closed wholesale seafood center in the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the new coronavirus was originally discovered.
The team arrived in Huanan in the middle of high security, with additional barricades set up outside a high blue fence surrounding the market and leaving in a convoy after about an hour. The experts did not take questions from journalists.
Since the team was released from a two-week quarantine on Thursday, the team has visited hospitals and markets, as well as an exhibition to celebrate Wuhan’s fight against the virus, which included a 76-day shutdown of the city of 11 million.
The WHO, which has been trying to live up to expectations for the mission, said on Friday that team members would be restricted to visits organized by their Chinese hosts and would have no contact with members of the community due to health restrictions.
No complete itinerary for the team’s two weeks of fieldwork has been announced and journalists covering the closely monitored visit have been kept at a distance from team members.
Public access to the widespread wholesale market Huanan Seafood has been limited since it closed at the beginning of last year.
Before the market was closed full of hundreds of stalls divided into sections for meat, seafood and vegetables. Now it stands as a landmark in a city that was traumatized as the original epicenter of what became the pandemic.
Trace the origin of the virus
On December 31, 2019, after four cases of a mysterious pneumonia had been linked to the market, it was closed overnight. By the end of January, Wuhan had entered a 76-day lockdown.
Experts say the Huanan market still plays a role in tracing the virus’ origins, as the first cluster of cases was identified there.
The WHO-led probe in Wuhan has been plagued by delays, access concerns and quarrels between China and the United States, which accused China of concealing the scale of the first outbreak and criticized the terms of the visit, according to which Chinese experts conducted the first phase of research.
The origin of the virus has become highly politicized, and some Chinese diplomats and state media have thrown support behind theories that the virus potentially originated in another country.
The team was set to arrive in Wuhan earlier in January, and China’s delay in their visit rarely drew widespread criticism from the WHO chief, whom then-US President Donald Trump accused of being “China-centric.”