One animal health expert and one epidemiologist will work in Beijing to fix the ‘scope and terms of reference’ for the future mission aimed at learning how the virus jumped from animals to humans, a statement from the United Nations body said.
Scientists believe the virus may have originated in bats, then was transmitted through another mammal such such as a civet cat or an armadillo-like pangolin before being passed on to people at a fresh food market in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year.
In an effort to block future outbreaks, China has cracked down on the trade in wildlife and closed some wet markets, while enforcing strict containment measures that appear to have virtually stopped new local infections.
The WHO mission is politically sensitive, with the U.S. – the organization’s top funder – moving to cut ties with it over allegations it mishandled the outbreak and is biased toward China.
An example of a Chinese wet market in Macau, China, in which wild animals are sold for human consumption. Since the coronavirus outbreak, the practice have been widely banned in China, as it is believed that the virus could have transferred from animals to humans at a similar market in the Chinese city of Wuhan
The WHO has sent one animal health expert and one epidemiologist to lay the groundworks for a future investigation into the origins of Covid-19. Above, Dr. Gauden Galea, the World Health Organization (WHO) representative in China, speaks during an interview
More than 120 nations called for an investigation into the origins of the virus at the World Health Assembly in May.
China has insisted that WHO lead the investigation and for it to wait until the pandemic is brought under control. The U.S., Brazil and India are continuing to see an increasing number of cases.
The last WHO coronavirus-specific mission to China was in February, after which the team’s leader, Canadian doctor Bruce Aylward, praised China’s containment efforts and information-sharing. Canadian and American officials have since criticized him as being too lenient on China.
An Associated Press investigation showed that in January, WHO officials were privately frustrated over the lack of transparency and access in China, according to internal audio recordings.
Complaints included that China delayed releasing the genetic map, or genome, of the virus for more than a week after three different government labs had fully decoded the information.
Privately, top WHO leaders complained in meetings the week of January 6 – days after the first case was detected – that China was not sharing enough data to assess how effectively the virus spread between people or what risk it posed to the rest of the world, costing valuable time.
One theory suggests Pangolins, the most trafficked animal in the world, could have passed the virus onto humans. No consensus has been reached yet on how it was transferred. Pictured: Pangolin are watered by a customs officer who confiscated them
U.S. officials have hammered WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus for praising China for its ‘transparency’ early in the outbreak, and on Tuesday, the Trump administration formally notified congress of its withdrawal from the organisation, having first announced its intention to do so on May 29.
U.S. Senator Robert Mendendez, who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee, announced the notification on Twitter, while criticising the decision as shortsighted and risky.
‘Congress received notification that POTUS officially withdrew the U.S. from the WHO in the midst of a pandemic. To call Trump’s response to COVID chaotic & incoherent doesn’t do it justice,’ he wrote.
‘This won’t protect American lives or interests—it leaves Americans sick & America alone.’
WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, pictured above speaking during this year’s World Health Assembly in Geneva, has been hammered by the U.S. for praising China’s transparency in the early stages of the outbreak, while others have criticised the country for not sharing enough data to assess how effectively the virus spread between people
The administration also told the UN Secretary General, an administration official told Fox News. The move will take effect in July 2021 – which potentially could give Trump or Democrat Joe Biden, who is leading in the polls, the chance to roll back the decision.
Trump blasted the WHO this spring as he shocked U.S. and world officials when he announced the move. He said the WHO had failed to make ‘greatly needed reforms,’ and said the U.S. would divert funds to other global health organizations.
The move drew pushback even from prominent Republicans, who have called out some missteps by the WHO but nevertheless saw the benefit in having a global health group tending to issues like COVID-19, Malaria, and Ebola.