WHO team arrives in China to investigate Covid origins as country sees new case spike

Credit: AP

A team of World Health Organization (WHO) researchers have arrived in China to probe the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic - following months of political wrangling with President Xi Jinping’s government.

A 10-member team has now landed in Wuhan to conduct a politically sensitive investigation into the origins of the pandemic, amid uncertainty about whether Beijing might try to prevent embarrassing discoveries.

Scientists suspect the virus - that has killed 1.9 million people since late 2019 - jumped to humans from bats or other animals, most likely in China’s southwest.

But China's ruling Communist Party, stung by complaints it allowed the disease to spread, says the virus came from abroad, possibly on imported seafood - a claim rejected by scientists.

The WHO team includes virus and other experts from the United States, Australia, Germany, Japan, Britain, Russia, the Netherlands, Qatar and Vietnam.

In a tweet, WHO confirmed the arrival of the team but said two members were still completing Covid tests in Singapore after they returned positive antibody tests.

The WHO team will undergo a two-week quarantine as well as a throat swab test and an antibody test for Covid-19, according to a post on CGTN’s official Weibo account.

But researchers will start working with Chinese experts via video conference while in quarantine.

The arrival of WHO's team comes as China reported a new surge in coronavirus cases - and its first recorded Covid-related death in months.

The latest death raises the toll to 4,635 among 87,844 cases in the country.

A woman carries a child wearing a face mask to protect against the spread of the coronavirus as they walk across an intersection in Beijing. Credit: AP

Though China's relatively low case figures are a testimony to the effectiveness of strict containment, tracing and quarantine measures - the figures have also raised questions about the tight hold the government maintains on all information related to the outbreak.

China has put more than 20 million people under varying degrees of lockdown in Hebei, Beijing and other areas in hopes of stemming infections ahead of next month’s Lunar New Year holiday.

The government has cut travel links to and from several cities, urged people to stay put for the holiday, postponed important political gatherings and plans to let schools out a week early to reduce the chances of infection.