World Health Organization expert team arrives in Wuhan to begin COVID-19 investigation

Passengers wearing face masks to protect against the spread of coronavirus exit a plane after arriving at Wuhan Tianhe International Airport in Wuhan

China has been saying for months that the although Wuhan is where the first cluster of cases was detected, it is not necessarily where the virus originated.

The two experts were stopped from boarding a plane to the city of Wuhan after testing positive for Covid-19 antibodies in blood-based serology tests during transit in Singapore, even though they tested negative for Covid-19 in swab tests, Dow Jones reported, citing unidentified people familiar with the matter.

Chinese CDC Deputy Director Feng Zijian said he has no answers as to what the intermediate host of the novel coronavirus was, or how the virus jumped from animals to humans, and China's medical experts will work closely with the World Health Organization experts' team to try to probe its source.

The WHO experts arrived in Wuhan as China is experiencing a relapse of COVID-19 cases.

In May previous year, the World Health Assembly (WHA) - the governing body of the 194-member states of the WHO - approved a resolution to set up an independent inquiry to conduct an "impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation" of the global response as well as that of the WHO.

The first confirmed case of the virus was in Wuhan on December 31, but some evidence suggests the virus may have been circulating in China and European nations months before that.

The hashtag "New virus death in Hebei" quickly ratcheted up 270 million views on Chinese social media platform Weibo on Thursday.

After landing, the team will spend two weeks in quarantine before visiting various sites to investigate how the coronavirus first jumped to people, said Ben Embarek, an expert in zoonosis, diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans. China has largely brought the virus under control through quick mass testing, stringent lockdowns and tight travel restrictions.

China, which celebrated victory over the virus past year with businesses and schools reopening and awards handed out to virus experts and front-line medical workers, is now battling resurgent cases.

A worker in protective coverings directs members of the World Health Organization (WHO) team on their arrival at the airport in Wuhan in central China's Hubei province on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021.

The WHO have been at pains to cut the political baggage attached to their mission.

Peter Ben Embarek, team lead for the mission, said the group would start with a two-week quarantine at a hotel due to China's border requirements.

"At this stage what I think we need is a very open mind when trying to step back into the events that led eventually to this pandemic", she told reporters.

"The idea is to advance a number of studies that were already designed and decided upon some months ago to get us a better understanding of what happened", he said.

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