An international team of genetic experts is on the ground in Wuhan, China, finally making progress in its long quest to understand how the pandemic first jumped from animals to humans. But the weak scientific research has become a journalistic atmosphere there, and it continues to be plagued by conspiracy theories and global politics.
On Monday, a senior official with the World Health Organization has clearly had enough, criticizing the skeptics and specifically calling economists a conspiracy to present hard evidence or remain silent.
Members of 15-person team arrived in Wuhan last month and completed their mandated two-week quarantine last Wednesday. Since then, they have made several trips around Wuhan — filled by the media — including a visit to the hospital treating the first known COVID-19 cases and the Huanan seafood market, where authorities have been linked know many main issues. The group also plans to meet with the survivors of COVID-19 and visit the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which is the center of much attention and many theories that the epidemic virus is active and / or accidentally released from a bedroom.
The researchers have noted that they don’t expect to find all the answers on this one trip—and piecing together how the coronavirus pandemic may ultimately begin could take years. But team members have said they are happy with the access they have had during their visit. One member, Peter Daszak, scientist and leader of the EcoHealth Alliance, told The Telegraph that they “have access to all the places we want to visit” and that their discussions with Chinese scientists and doctors have not been approved or “vetted.” He called the visit “a big step forward.”
“Who is judging here?”
However, the research has been dogged by skepticism, especially as it appears that China is working to discredit the team’s work and avoid any criticism for catching the epidemic early. Inside an NBC interview recorded on Sunday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Beijing “falls far short of the mark” when it comes to giving the group access and that the country’s lack of transparency is a “huge problem.”
The ongoing opposition has caused some to worry about the team’s findings in the future and has supported conspiracy theories, which, in turn, has angered officials at the WHO.
A visibly upset Mike Ryan — the executive director of the WHO’s emergencies program — tried to silence critics and critics at a press conference on Monday. “If you think you have some answers (on the origin of the virus), please let us know,” Ryan said. “We already have this here, at this very press conference, people are pointing to the intelligence that is available that has answers (and) that have not been provided before. So, who is responsible here and is behaving in the right way to say that you will not receive a report before we write it?”
Dr. Ryan noted that the group in Wuhan is trying to find answers and includes experts from 10 countries, who gathered under the World Health Assembly of 194 countries, not WHO. “He deserves the support of the international community, and he deserves to be able to finish his job,” Ryan said. “Not that all the answers can be found at this time, but it is – indeed for me – the time for people who say and think they have information to start to provide.”