WHO experts to directly fly to Wuhan to probe COVID-19 origins amid virus spike in China

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BEIJING, Jan 12 (PTI): A 10-member team of WHO experts assigned to probe the origins of COVID-19 will directly fly from Singapore to the central Chinese city of Wuhan, where the virus first emerged in December 2019, amid a resurgence of the deadly disease in several cities close to Beijing, prompting lockdowns.

“Current plan is that they will fly from Singapore to Wuhan on January 14,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a media briefing here on Tuesday. He, however, said he has no details whether the experts would have to undergo quarantine and what is their itinerary and how long the team would stay in Wuhan and directed the media to the relevant authorities.

Observers say it is significant that the 10-member expert team is commencing their much-delayed probe from Wuhan from where COVID-19 emerged in December last year before it became a pandemic, killing over 1,944,750 people worldwide so far. The World Health Organisation team’s visit has become a bone of contention as Beijing, which questions the widely-held view about the virus’ origins in Wuhan, had delayed granting permission to it.

China has been proactively questioning the view that the deadly outbreak took place in a wet market in Wuhan where live animals, birds and reptiles are sold and spread to humans. The market remained closed and sealed since early last year.

China had confirmed the arrival of the WHO team on Monday, ending the uncertainty and delay which drew sharp criticism from the world health body.

Monday’s confirmation of the expert team’s visit came after WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who is often accused of being pro-China, in a rare instance of criticism, expressed disappointment over Beijing for not finalising the necessary permissions for the experts’ team’s arrival. The visit is also taking place when China, which has effectively contained the virus, is experiencing a relapse of the disease in several places in Hebei province close to Beijing.

China has reported 55 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases, including 40 in north China’s Hebei province and one in the Chinese capital.

Hebei province reported a total of 326 locally transmitted COVID-19 cases and 234 asymptomatic infections from January 2 to January 12 till 10 am, Vice Governor Xu Jianpei said. Lockdown has been clamped in Hebei’s provincial capital Shijiazhaung along with Xingtai and Langfang cities.

As a result, lockdowns have been imposed in some of the areas and political conference of Hebei has been postponed. Officials have asked residents of the city of Gu’an near Beijing to stay home for a week starting Tuesday. Hebei has also reportedly delayed the meetings of the provincial People’s Congress and its advisory body that are usually held in February.

All provinces hold their local legislatures meetings before the National People’s Congress (NPC). This year’s NPC is due to take place in Beijing on March 5. China had postponed NPC meeting to May last year for the first time in its history due to coronavirus.

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