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WHO researchers land in Wuhan city to probe origin of novel coronavirus

NEW DELHI: A team of researchers from across the world on Thursday arrived in the Chinese city of Wuhan, where novel coronavirus was first detected, to investigate its origins amid uncertainty about whether Beijing might try to prevent embarrassing discoveries.

CGTN, the English-language channel of the state-run CCTV, reported the arrival of the WHO team.

The 10-member delegation sent to Wuhan by the World Health Organization (WHO) was approved by President Xi Jinping’s government after months of diplomatic wrangling.

The members include virus and other experts from the United States, UK, Russia, Australia, Japan, Germany, The Netherlands, Qatar and Vietnam. The visiting scientists will exchange views with Chinese scientists.

The team of experts will undergo a two-week quarantine as well as a throat swab test and an antibody test for COVID-19, Chinese media have reported. They will start working with Chinese experts via video conference during quarantine.

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Scientists suspect the virus that has killed over 1.9 million people since late 2019 jumped to humans from bats or other animals, most likely in southwest China. The ruling Communist Party, which is often accused of allowing the disease to spread, maintains that the virus came from abroad, possibly on imported seafood. Scientists reject that though.

China rejected demands for an international investigation after the US blamed Beijing for the spread of the virus, which plunged the global economy into its deepest slump since the 1930s.

When Australia called for an independent inquiry in April, Beijing blocked imports of Australian beef, wine and other goods in retaliation.

The Chinese government has always tried to confuse the world about the origin of the virus.  

Some of the WHO team members were en route to China a week ago but had to turn back after Beijing announced they hadn’t obtained valid visas.

A possible focus for investigators would be the Wuhan Institute of Virology in the city where the outbreak began. One of China’s top virus research labs, it built an archive of genetic information about bat coronaviruses after the 2003 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.

According to WHO’s published agenda for its origins research, there are no plans to assess whether there might have been an accidental release of the coronavirus at the Wuhan lab, as some American politicians, including President Donald Trump, have claimed. Although it may be challenging to find precisely the same coronavirus in animals as in humans, discovering closely related viruses might help explain the transit of the virus from animals and clarify what preventive measures are needed to avoid future epidemics.

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