The World Health Organization-led team investigating the origins of COVID-19 during a mission that has been tightly controlled by its Chinese hosts visited a hospital on Saturday in the central city of Wuhan that treated early coronavirus patients.
The team went to Jinyintan Hospital, on its second day, after being in quarantine for two weeks, where doctors had collected samples from patients suffering from an unidentified pneumonia in late 2019.
Team member Peter Daszak said on Twitter, “Important opportunity to talk directly w/ medics who were on the ground at that critical time fighting COVID!”
2nd day on-the-ground in Wuhan meeting w/ leaders & staff at the famous Wuhan Jinyintan Hospital that treated large numbers of severe COVID cases early in the outbreak. Important opportunity to talk directly w/ medics who were on the ground at that critical time fighting COVID!
— Peter Daszak (@PeterDaszak) January 30, 2021
On Thursday, the team members leaving the hospital did not speak to journalists, who have been kept at a distance since the group left its quarantine hotel.
“Just back from visit at Jinyintan hospital, that specialised in infectious diseases and was designated for treatment of the first cases in Wuhan. Stories quite similar to what I have heard from our ICU doctors,” team member Marion Koopmans tweeted.
Just back from visit at Jinyintan hospital, that specialised in infectious diseases and was designated for treatment of the first cases in Wuhan. Stories quite similar to what I have heard from our ICU doctors.
— Marion Koopmans (@MarionKoopmans) January 30, 2021
The probe led by WHO has been plagued by delays, and there are concern over access and wrangling between Beijing and Washington that also blamed China of hiding the extent of the initial outbreak and criticized the terms of their visit, under which Chinese experts conducted the first phase of research.
The WHO said on Friday that team members would be limited to visits organised by their Chinese hosts and would not have any contact with community members, due to health restrictions.
The WHO declared a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC), its highest level of alarm exactly a year ago.
The WHO has said the team plans to visit the seafood market at the centre of the early outbreak as well as the Wuhan Institute of Virology but the group’s itinerary has not been announced.
One theory, rejected by China, is that the outbreak was caused by a leak at the government lab.
However, later on Saturday, the WHO team went to an demonstration centre that features an exhibit commemorating early efforts to battle the outbreak in Wuhan, which included a 76-day lockdown of the city of 11 million.
Earlier in Wuhan the investigating team arrived in January and China’s delay of their visit got rare public criticism from the head of the WHO, which former U.S. President Donald Trump accused of being “China-centric”
The idea that the virus existed abroad before it was discovered in Wuhan was discovered in Wuhan, with state media citing the presence of the virus on imported frozen food packaging and scientific papers saying it had been circulating in Europe in 2019.
China’s foreign ministry has also oblique that the sudden closure of a U.S. army laboratory at Fort Detrick in Maryland in July 2019 was linked to the pandemic.