The World Health Organization (WHO)-led team of experts probing the origins of Covid-19, visited Hunnan market on Sunday, the wholesale seafood centre in the Chinese city of Wuhan, which is at the heart of the first coronavirus outbreak.
The team arrived the market, which has been closed since January last year, going through its barricaded premises as guards quickly blocked others from entering and left in a convoy after about an hour, with the group of experts not taking questions from journalists.
The mission which had been delayed by China and slowed down by political intrigues is expected to find out how the virus jumped from animal to human.
Following their released from a 2-week quarantine on Thursday, the team has visited hospitals and markets, as well as an exhibition commemorating Wuhan’s battle with the virus, which included a 76-day lockdown of the city of 11 million.
The WHO officials, which have already downplayed the expectations for the mission, said on Friday that team members would be limited to visits organized by their Chinese hosts and would not have any contact with community members, due to health restrictions.
According to a report from Reuters, no full itinerary for the team’s two weeks of fieldwork has been announced, and journalists covering the tightly controlled visit have been kept at a distance from team members.
Public access to the sprawling Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, which had hundreds of stalls divided into various sections for meat, seafood and vegetables, has been restricted since it was shut at the beginning of last year.
However, it now stands as a landmark in a city that had been faced with the trauma of being the original epicentre of what is now a pandemic.
- It can be recalled that the first cases of the coronavirus disease were linked to the market in the central city of Wuhan in late 2019, prompting criticisms of the uncoordinated, secretive handling by Chinese authorities which led to its spread outside China.
- The team which had been set to arrive in early January was denied entry by the Chinese officials, a move that drew rare criticism from the Director-General of the WHO. The team was eventually allowed entry on January 14, 2021
- The WHO-led probe in Wuhan has been plagued by delays, concern over access and disagreements between China and the United States, which accused China of hiding the extent of the initial outbreak and criticised the terms of the visit, under which Chinese experts conducted the first phase of research.