Covid-19 could have been circulating elsewhere before Wuhan discovery: Chinese expert

WUHAN (AFP, REUTERS) – A joint World Health Organisation (WHO) and China expert mission investigating the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic in Wuhan said on Tuesday (Feb 9) that the virus that causes Covid-19 could have been circulating in other regions before it was identified in the central Chinese city of Wuhan at the end of 2019.

Dr Liang Wannian, an expert with China’s Health Commission, also told a press briefing at the end of a nearly one-month visit to Wuhan by a WHO-led team that there had been no substantial spread of the virus in the city before the late 2019 outbreak. 

The investigation had not yet found the animal host responsible for transferring the virus to humans, Dr Liang said.

Transmission from animals was likely but so far “the reservoir hosts remain to be identified”, he added. 

The briefing comes after nearly a month of meetings and site visits in the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the disease was first identified.

Dr Peter Ben Embarek, the head of the WHO team, said that its investigation had uncovered new information but had not dramatically changed the picture of the outbreak.

Dr Ben Embarek added that that work to identify the origins of the coronavirus points to a natural reservoir in bats, but it is unlikely that they were in Wuhan. 

The WHO team arrived in Wuhan on Jan 14 and after two weeks of quarantine, visited key sites like the Huanan seafood market, the location of the first known cluster of infections, as well as the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which has been involved in coronavirus research.

Members of the team have sought to rein in expectations about the mission, with zoologist Peter Daszak saying last week that one of their aims was to “identify the next steps to fill in the gaps”.

Another team member, infectious disease expert Dominic Dwyer, said it would probably take years to fully understand the origins of Covid-19.

The United States said China needed to be more open when it comes to sharing data and samples as well as allowing access to patients, medical staff and lab workers. Beijing subsequently accused Washington of politicising a scientific mission.

This story is developing.

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