Beijing: A World Health Organization team visited a hospital where China says the first COVID-19 patients were treated more than a year ago as part of the experts’ long-awaited fact-finding mission on the origins of the coronavirus.
Members of the team left the hotel by car, and a short time later entered the gates of the Hubei Provincial Hospital of Integrated Chinese and Western Medicine.
“First face to face meeting with our colleagues. Correction: facemask to facemask given the medical restrictions,” Dutch virologist Marion Koopmans tweeted in the morning.
“Nice to see our colleagues after lengthy Zoom meetings,” Koopman tweeted. The visiting researchers held video meetings during 14 days of quarantine after their arrival in China. They came out of quarantine on Thursday.
As per China’s official account of its response to the initial outbreak, Dr Zhang Jixian first reported cases of what was then known as “pneumonia of unknown origin” at the hospital on 27 December, 2019.
WHO said earlier on Twitter that the team requested “detailed underlying data” and planned to speak with early responders and some of the first COVID-19 patients. It also planned to visit markets such as the Huanan Seafood Market linked to many of the first cases, the Wuhan Institute of Virology, and laboratories at facilities such as the Wuhan Center for Disease Control.
“All hypotheses are on the table as the team follows the science in their work to understand the origins of the COVID19 virus,” WHO tweeted.
Confirmation of the origins of the virus is likely to take years.
A possible focus for investigators is the virology institute in the city. One of China’s top virus research labs, it built an archive of genetic information about bat coronaviruses after the 2003 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS.
The first clusters of Covid-19 were detected in Wuhan in late 2019.