Wednesday, 3 Mar 2021

Scientists fly to Wuhan to finally solve mystery of Covid’s origin

A team of experts are heading to Wuhan to investigate the truth behind the coronavirus outbreak that sparked a pandemic.

Ten scientists from the World Health Organisation (WHO) will travel to the city in January after months of negotiating access with the Chinese government.

There they will try to get to the bottom of what really happened at the end of 2019.

It is believed SARS-CoV-2 make the fateful leap from animals to humans for the first time.

While the prevailing theory is that the novel coronavirus originated in a wet market in Wuhan at the end of last year, there have been a number of other theories placing the outbreak elsewhere and earlier.

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China has also been accused by other nations of covering up the outbreak and underplaying its severity, most notably by the Trump administration in the US.

A biologist on the team says the point of the trip isn't to point the finger at anyone, but to understand when the virus began circulating and whether it originated in Wuhan – or not.

"It's really not about finding a guilty country," Fabian Leendertz of Germany's Robert Koch Institute told the Associated Press.

"It's about trying to understand what happened and then see if, based on those data, we can try to reduce the risk in the future."

The WHO expects the mission to last four or five weeks.

If successful it could finally shed light on the origins of the virus, which still remain mysterious an entire year after it emerged.

The mission could answer a number of serious questions about how it came to infect humans, such as which animal "gave" the virus to a person for the first time and whether or not there was an intermediate host.

The discovery of the novel coronavirus in a number of other countries months before the Wuhan outbreak, including Italy and Spain, has cast doubt on previous assumptions the wet market in Hubei province was the true epicentre.

Some experts now believe SARS-CoV-2 was simply amplified in Wuhan after originating elsewhere, although others have dismissed this theory, which has been pushed strongly by the Chinese government.

Research has suggested coronaviruses capable of infecting humans may have been circulating undetected in animals such as bats for a number of decades.

In the early months of the pandemic conspiracy theorists suggested the virus had leaked from a laboratory in Wuhan, which has never been proven.

There were even allegations that China had unleashed coronavirus on the world as a bioweapon, which was also never found to be true.

Donald Trump and his administration have insisted China is to blame for the severity of the pandemic, which has killed more than one and a half million people, by lacking transparency about the threat in its early days.

The US President also attacked the WHO for praising Beijing's response to the crisis, claiming the organisation "really blew it" and pulling funding for the group.

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