WHO team visits Wuhan hospital where 'first' Covid patient was treated

A team of investigators from the World Health Organisation (WHO) probing the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic have visited a second hospital in Wuhan which treated early patients.

Jinyatan Hospital was one of the first in the city to deal with patients and doctors there collected samples from those suffering from a then-unknown virus in late 2019.

It is held to be a key part of the epidemiological history of the disease.

The team held their first face-to-face meetings with Chinese scientists on Friday before experts specialising in animal health, virology, food safety and epidemiology visited another early site of the outbreak, the Hubei Integrated Chinese and Western Medicine Hospital.

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!’

Colleague Marion Koopmans added: ‘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.’

The WHO said its team plans to visit hospitals, markets including the Huanan Seafood Market which was linked to many of the first cases, the Wuhan Institute of Virology, and laboratories at facilities including the Wuhan Centre for Disease Control.

In a tweet late on Thursday, the organisation said: ‘All hypotheses are on the table as the team follows the science in their work to understand the origins of the Covid-19 virus.’

It went on to add that the team had already requested ‘detailed underlying data’ and planned to speak with early responders and some of the first patients.

The expedition has become politically charged, as China seeks to avoid blame for alleged missteps in its early response to the outbreak.

A single visit by scientists is unlikely to confirm the origins of the virus.

Pinning down an outbreak’s animal reservoir is typically an exhaustive endeavour that takes years of research including taking animal samples, genetic analysis and epidemiological studies.

One possibility is that a wildlife poacher may have passed the virus to traders who carried it to Wuhan.

The Chinese government has promoted theories, with little supporting evidence, that the outbreak may have started with imports of frozen seafood tainted with the virus, a notion roundly rejected by international scientists and agencies.

A possible focus for investigators is the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which built an archive of genetic information about bat coronaviruses after the 2003 outbreak of SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome.

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