WHO plans mission to China

The advance party has been and gone - and now an international team will travel to Wuhan to ask questions...
01 September 2020

Interview with 

Tedros Ghebreyesus & Michael Ryan, WHO


The logo of the World Health Organisation.


The story we've been told is that the coronavirus came from bats and jumped into humans some time late last year at a seafood market in the city of Wuhan, China. It’s a neat tale - but the problem is, nobody actually knows whether it’s true, and the evidence is mixed. Which is why the WHO’s Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus, speaking in July, said...

Tedros - Over the past few months, there has been a lot of discussion about the origins of COVID-19. All preparations have been finalised and WHO experts will be traveling to China this weekend, to prepare scientific plans with their Chinese counterparts, for identifying the zoonotic sources of the disease.

The two people the WHO sent were just the advance party for a much bigger group of scientists leaving soon for Wuhan, to start asking hard questions. From the WHO, Michael Ryan...

Michael - The answers to these questions are sometimes elusive, and it is quite a detective story to find the source, and the intermediate pathways by which the virus can breach that barrier to humans. We spent decades trying to do that in ebola. We spent years trying to do that with MERS and SARS. It takes time. And it does take a meticulous, multi-sectoral approach to this. And we don't know where that species barrier was actually breached. This is very important because unless we understand... like anything, if the walls of your castle are breached, you need to know where the breach is because you can fix and repair that breach. You can make sure that that is strengthened for the future. So we need to understand: what was the track of this virus? From the wild animal kingdom directly into humans? Directly through farmed animals? Directly into a market, one market, two, how many? We have to keep an open mind. Science must stay open to all possibilities.


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