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WHO Visits the Wuhan Lab | Carolyn Cui

The Wuhan Institute of Virology, one of China’s top virus research labs, has been at the forefront of conspiracy theories regarding the origins of coronavirus. Now, almost a year after California’s first lockdown, a team of scientists from the World Health Organization have arrived in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei Province, to investigate COVID-19’s beginnings.

Since the virus first appeared, numerous theories have been propagated online and some politicians have also voiced their skepticism. Many ended up taking these claims seriously, going so far as to call it a hoax or, in the US, a ploy by the Democrats while not abiding by new safety guidelines, ultimately aiding in the spread of coronavirus.

The Institute in particular has been the subject of scrutiny, as it has collected a wide array of virus samples regarding coronaviruses after the 2003 SARS outbreak, which sparked speculation as to whether or not the Institute was also the cause of the first outbreak in Wuhan back in December 2019. China has been pushing back against these theories, but they have also offered other unproven allegations as to where the virus originated. The country has kept a tight grip on what information regarding the virus can be revealed, possibly to divert blame regarding early mishaps in controlling the virus. China has since largely controlled COVID-19’s spread due to taking sometimes extreme measures, strict testing, and extensive contact tracing.

Having set foot in Hubei Province about a week prior, the team has been working with the Chinese government in investigating the virus. So far, the WHO scientists have met with individuals who are in charge of livestock in the Hubei province, and they have also visited a number of laboratories, markets, and hospitals. Despite the limited media coverage, it appears that both sides have been very cooperative. Peter Daszak, a zoologist and member of this WHO team, has thus far been active on his Twitter account for the duration of the visit. He tweeted that discussions on Wednesday and Thursday with the Institute were “frank” and “open,” as well as “informative.” Though, members of the team have generally provided few and vague details; Thea Fischer, another member, said that the visit to the Wuhan Institute of Virology was “very interesting” and that there were “many questions.” There were no comments made to the journalists waiting outside the Institute when the WHO team emerged after about three hours.

While the World Health Organisation is hopeful, they have emphasised that if there’s one thing we shouldn’t expect from this visit, it would be quick and conclusive results. Identifying the origins of a virus is no easy task–in fact, it will likely take years–and a short investigation is unlikely to turn up exactly what we are looking for. Nevertheless, their mission will only serve to further our understanding of this virus and epidemiology in general, while hopefully pointing towards long-awaited closure.

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