Politics

WHO Panel to Recommend ‘Deeper’ Study into First COVID Patient, Wet-Market Suppliers

A worker in a protective suit at the closed seafood market in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, January 10, 2020. The seafood market is linked to the outbreak of the pneumonia caused by the new strain of coronavirus, but some patients diagnosed with the new coronavirus deny exposure to this market. (Stringer/Reuters)

A World Health Organization panel will recommend more comprehensive contact tracing of the first known COVID-19 patient in Wuhan, China and the supply chain of the wildlife market where it is thought to have originated in its preliminary report into the origins of the coronavirus.

The panel will call on Chinese officials to conduct a deeper investigation into the contact history of the first known patient, who is believed to have contracted the virus on December 8, 2019, according to CNN. Investigators have described the patient as a white-collar worker in his forties who “lived a typical urban life.”

“He did not do crowded sporting activities. His main hobby was surfing the Internet,” said Peter Daszak, a member of the WHO investigation team.

The patient, who reportedly did not have a history of traveling far from home, revealed to the WHO team that his parents had visited a wet market in Wuhan shortly before he was infected.

“Then he said at the end of the interview — and it was all being translated and the translator, specifically said — ‘My parents visited a local community wet market,’” Daszak said.

That market is separate from the Huanan seafood market where experts believe the virus originated.

“Now, to use the term ‘wet market,’ especially under this political constraint we were under, tells me something very significant: that the other markets in Wuhan — not [only] Huanan market, other markets — sold wildlife products,” Daszak said.

Professor Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, told the network he was shocked that Chinese officials had not investigated “two important clues like that.”

“They have top-notch scientists, who are much more knowledgeable than most in terms of recognizing the importance of this information,” he said.

The panel will also recommend an immediate probe into the supply chain of the Huanan seafood market, according to CNN.

Chinese scientists gave the WHO team a list of farms in the southern provinces of Yunnan, Guangxi, and Guangdong that supplied the Huanan seafood market in Wuhan with wildlife, Daszak said.

“There will be recommendations that will include going down to those farms, testing farmers, interviewing and testing relatives, and finding out if there is any evidence that there were outbreaks down there before Wuhan,” Daszak said.

The team announced earlier this month that the virus was likely spread from an animal to humans, calling a theory that the virus was released in a lab accident “extremely unlikely.” 

“Our initial findings suggest that the introduction through an intermediary host species is the most likely pathway and one that will require more studies and more specific, targeted research,” WHO food safety and animal diseases expert Peter Ben Embarek said then.

“However, the findings suggest that the laboratory incidents hypothesis is extremely unlikely to explain the introduction of the virus to the human population,” Embarek said. “Therefore it is not a hypothesis that we advise to suggest future studies . . . into the understanding of the origin of the virus.”

Health experts have said that the novel coronavirus likely originated in Wuhan, China in November 2019. Scientists in recent months have questioned whether the virus originated at a live animal market in Wuhan or was the result of a lab accident at one of the city’s two laboratories — the Wuhan Institute of Virology and the Wuhan Centers for Disease Control — that had been studying coronaviruses that originated in bats.

China has argued that the virus did not start within its borders and instead has peddled other theories that the virus may have originated elsewhere.

The WHO team, which draws on experts from ten countries, is considering several theories for how the disease first ended up in humans. The team’s work is meant to be an initial step in investigating the origins of the virus, which is believed to have originated in bats before being passed to humans via another species of wild animal, such as a pangolin or bamboo rat.

Send a tip to the news team at NR.




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