WHO official investigating pandemic warns world to 'manage expectations' as team leaves quarantine

Ben Farmer
·2 min read
A general view of wax figurines of workers in PPE - Lintao Zhang/Getty Images
A general view of wax figurines of workers in PPE - Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

A team of World Health Organisation experts investigating the origins of the pandemic are preparing to begin work at last after completing quarantine in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

The 13-person team will leave their fortnight-long isolation in the next 24 hours and step into a political minefield.

American accusations that the virus originated in a Chinese military lab, or that the country's government hushed up the start of the outbreak, are likely to place intense scrutiny on the team.

"The eyes of the world are focused on this, the opinions of the world are focused on this," Dutch virologist and team member Marion Koopmans told CNN.

She went on: "I think we really have to manage expectations, if you look at some of the earlier quests for the origins of outbreaks, they have taken years to complete.

"The early and relatively easy studies have been done, have already been published."

China reported 75 new coronavirus cases for Tuesday, the lowest daily increase in two weeks, a sign that a campaign of mass quarantines and testing is beginning to work.

Health officials have been battling a resurgence of the virus, finding more than 2,480 cases in the last five weeks, primarily clustered around northeast China, including in the capital of Beijing.

Authorities have sealed more than 20 million people in their homes and tested residents multiple times to try to get a grip on the outbreak.

In Beijing’s Daxing district, where at least two cases of the new UK variant were found, authorities have tested people via oral, nasal and anal swabs, as Chinese experts have claimed that the virus can remain present in fecal matter for longer.

A centralised quarantine site has also been set up for people to quarantine with their pets after numerous complaints that the animals would die alone and without care while their owners were isolated in government facilities.

Beijing authorities have instituted a 28-day quarantine programme, putting people in government quarantine for 14 days, then requiring a seven-day quarantine at home, plus an additional seven-day monitoring period.

Authorities are racing to administer vaccines ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday on February 12, a typically heavy travel period when people are on the move to celebrate with friends and family.

So far, China has administered 22.8 million vaccine doses as authorities urge people to stay put. Last year, the holiday period is believed to have exacerbated the spread from Wuhan, ground zero of the outbreak.

Those who do opt to travel, however, must have negative Covid-19 test results valid from within a week of departure.

Concerns abound about the effectiveness of Chinese vaccines given a dearth of data released to the public, confusing results regarding efficacy, and questions on whether the doses would work against new variants circulating.