The WHO on Friday said it was too early to draw any conclusions from its mission to Wuhan as to whether the COVID-19 pandemic started in China, as the city yesterday passes the one-year anniversary of its lockdown.
A team of WHO experts arrived in Wuhan on Thursday last week to start probing the origins of the coronavirus, more than a year after the first cases were detected in the central Chinese city.
They were whisked to a hotel to complete a two-week quarantine.
China is braced for the scrutiny the expert team of WHO scientists would bring to its virus narrative, while Beijing has drip-fed the idea that the pandemic started outside of its borders.
“All hypotheses are on the table, and it is definitely too early to come to a conclusion of exactly where this virus started, either within or without China,” WHO Health Emergencies Program executive director Michael Ryan told a news conference in Geneva.
“This is a big jigsaw puzzle and you cannot tell what the image says by looking at one piece in a 10,000-piece jigsaw puzzle,” he added.
The virus has killed more than 2 million people so far, infected tens of millions of others and hammered the global economy. In China, authorities have reported fewer than 5,000 death, the vast majority coming in Wuhan at the pandemic’s outset.
The WHO says establishing the pathway of the virus from animals to humans is essential to preventing future outbreaks.
It says the probe should rightly start where the first cases were discovered, and follow the trail of clues from there.
“The data will lead us to the next phase of where we have to go next to look at the origins of this virus. It is too early to come to any conclusion, but we believe we are making some progress and we hope to continue to do so in the interest of public health in the future,” Ryan said.
Meanwhile, a year ago yesterday, Wuhan shocked the world by confining its 11 million anxious citizens to their homes, beginning a traumatic 76-day lockdown that underscored the growing threat of a mysterious pathogen emanating from the city.
At 10am that day, public transport was shut down and exiting the city was banned without special permission. An eerie silence descended.
One by one, adjacent areas in hard-hit Hubei Province quickly followed suit, as did governments worldwide, as the virus went global.
While the world’s pandemic struggles continue, Wuhan is nothing like the locked-down ghost town of a year ago, with traffic humming, sidewalks bustling and citizens packing public transportation and parks.
“I was frightened last year, but things have improved a lot since the epidemic has been brought under control,” said a maskless jogger in his 20s who gave only his surname Wang, one of many people exercising under hazy skies along Wuhan’s Yangtze Riverfront.
“Life is like before now,” he said.
Memories of Wuhan’s ordeal remain fresh, especially as localized COVID-19 clusters multiply across China, prompting mass testing in Beijing and targeted lockdowns in other areas.
Huang Genben, 76, spent 67 days in a hospital fighting COVID-19 last year, spitting up blood and expecting to die.
“When I closed my eyes at night, I didn’t know if I would open them again,” Huang said.
Like many Chinese, he expresses pride at the “great efforts” made by the government and citizens to contain the pandemic, exemplified by Wuhan.
Yesterday’s relaxed scenes — elderly dancers spinning in parks and crowded bars selling “Wuhan Stay Strong” craft beer — contrast with the rolling lockdowns, surging death rates and overwhelmed hospitals in other countries.
“We can tell from the results that the policy of the government was correct, the cooperation of [Wuhan] citizens was correct. I feel pain seeing the epidemic all over the world,” Huang said.
The government has pushed an official propaganda narrative — starring Wuhan — focusing on a “heroic” Chinese response and recovery.
However, there were no known lockdown commemorations planned by Beijing, which remains tight-lipped on the pandemic’s early days amid accusations it tried to cover it up or mishandled the outbreak, allowing it to spread.
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