A World Health Organization team investigating the roots of the coronavirus visited the Chinese food market that was previously linked to many early infections.
Health workers spent about an hour at the Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan Sunday.
Scientists once suspected animals sold in the market were linked to the December 2019 outbreak there. That theory has since been largely ruled out, but WHO workers say the site could provide hints as to how the deadly virus spread so quickly.
“Very important site visits today — a wholesale market first & Huanan Seafood Market just now,” Peter Daszak, a zoologist with the U.S. group EcoHealth Alliance and a member of the WHO team, tweeted. “Very informative & critical for our joint teams to understand the epidemiology of COVID as it started to spread at the end of 2019.”
Before visiting the Huanan Seafood Market, team members were joined by a large entourage of Chinese officials for a walk through the Baishazhou Market — one of the industrial city’s largest food-selling venues, which was a distribution center during its 76-day lockdown.
The visit was politically charged, as Communist Party leaders look to avoid blame for missteps in the country’s early response to the outbreak. China had previously blocked the scientists’ planned entry into the market. It reversed the decision earlier this month after WHO leaders accused the country of hampering the investigation.
The international team of veterinary medicine, virology, food safety and epidemiology experts also toured two hospitals at the center of the early outbreak, and a museum exhibit about the early history of COVID-19.
Before visiting the Huanan Seafood Market, WHO team members were joined by a large entourage of Chinese officials for a walk through the Baishazhou Market.Hector Retamal/AFP via Getty Images
One WHO team member flashed a thumbs up sign to a reporter who inquired about the success of the tours.
However, a single visit by the team is unlikely to generate answers. Typically, years of research involving animal samples, genetic analysis and epidemiological studies is needed to determine the origins of an outbreak.
Chinese officials have floated an unconfirmed theory that the outbreak started from imported frozen seafood, but a more viable possibility is that a wildlife poacher passed the virus to traders who brought ii to Wuhan.
Wuhan accounted for most of China’s 4,635 COVID-19 deaths, but reports being free of outbreaks since lockdown was lifted last April.
A November study by the National Cancer Institute said the virus appears to have been circulating in Milan in September of 2019 — three months before the outbreak was reported in Wuhan.
With Post Wires