A team of WHO experts investigating the origin of coronavirus toured a propaganda exhibition celebrating China’s recovery from the Wuhan pandemic on Saturday, following a hospital meeting that dealt with the first confirmed Covid-19 cases over a year ago.
The details of the trip have so far been meager, with the media kept at arm’s length and information about the itinerary dribbled out via tweets from World Health Organization experts instead of China’s narrow communist authorities.
The group was driven to Jinyintan Hospital, the first to receive officially diagnosed Covid-19 patients in late 2019, when the horrors of the virus arose in central China.
Just back from the visit to Jinyintan Hospital, which specializes in infectious diseases and was appointed to treat the first cases in Wuhan. Stories similar to what I have heard from our ICU doctors.
– Marion Koopmans (@MarionKoopmans) January 30, 2021
In a tweet, team member Peter Daszak welcomed the hospital visit as an “important opportunity to talk directly to medicines that were on the ground at the critical time to fight COVID!”
2nd day on site in Wuhan meeting with leaders and staff at the famous Wuhan Jinyintan Hospital who treated a large number of serious COVID cases early in the outbreak. Important opportunity to talk directly with medicines that were on the ground at the critical time to fight COVID!
– Peter Daszak (@PeterDaszak) January 30, 2021
On Saturday afternoon, the team visited a cavernous exhibition welcoming the Wuhan health authorities’ urgent response in the chaotic, frighteningly early stages of the outbreak – as well as the Communist leadership’s agility to control a crisis without precedent.
The WHO mission comes with heavy political baggage – China refused the team access until mid-January and there are questions about what experts can hope to find a year after the virus first emerged.
On Friday, WHO emergency director Michael Ryan tried to live up to expectations.
Success “is not necessarily measured by finding an absolute source on the first mission,” he told a Geneva news conference.
“This is a complicated business, but what we need to do is gather all the information … and come to an assessment of how much more we know about the origin of the disease and what further studies may be needed to shed light on this.”
Last week, China warned the United States against “political interference” during the trip, after the White House demanded a “robust and clear” investigation.
The WHO insists that the probe will stick to the science behind how the virus jumped from animals – believed to be bats – to humans.
The team is also expected to visit the market, which is believed to have seen the first large cluster of infections, as well as the Wuhan Institute of Virology and other laboratories, in what the WHO’s Ryan described as a “very busy, busy schedule”.
‘Not an investigation’
Beijing is desperate to dismiss criticism of its handling of the chaotic early stages of the outbreak.
It has refocused attention at home – and abroad – on its management of and recovery after the outbreak.
Since it seeped across China’s borders, the pandemic has ripped across the world, killing more than two million people and destroying economies.
China, with a relatively low reported death toll of 4,636, has bounced back and has quickly locked down areas where cases have been found, tested millions and limited travel to sniff out the crisis.
The country’s economy grew by 2.3 percent despite the outbreak last year and its leadership has few chances to boast of the country’s resilience and renewal.
A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman on Friday described the WHO visit as “part of global research” on the pandemic.
“It is not an investigation,” Zhao Lijian told reporters.