WHO expert team arrives in China to trace potential COVID-19 origins
Updated 03:31, 15-Jan-2021
Toni Waterman in Brussels


A year into the pandemic, and with Europe facing a "tipping point" in infections, a World Health Organization (WHO) team is in China attempting to better understand the novel coronavirus.

The team is comprised of experts in the fields of virology, epidemiology, and viral genome sequencing.


"Chinese scientists still store the strains so that we could get all the necessary data and make specific conclusions on the basis of the material studied," said Ihor Perehinets, WHO's program area manager.

"At this stage, we know that we're just using the concerted efforts between WHO experts and Chinese scientists to study the situation in detail."

Peter Ben Embarek – the WHO's top expert on animal diseases that cross to other species, who went to China on a preliminary mission last July – is leading the team of independent experts, a WHO spokesman said.

The aim of the mission is to find out where the spread came from so to see what lessons can be learned for the future.

"We are looking for the answers here that may save us in future – not culprits and not people to blame," said the WHO's top emergency expert, Mike Ryan. He added that the WHO was willing to go "anywhere and everywhere" to find out how the virus emerged.


COVID-19 has affected people across the world – but where did it come from? /Reuters

COVID-19 has affected people across the world – but where did it come from? /Reuters


It comes as the head of the WHO's Europe division Hans Kluge called for countries to do more to contain the virus. "We remain in the grip of COVID-19 pandemic," said Kluge.  

"This moment represents a tipping point in the course of the pandemic where science, politics, technology, and values must form a united front in order to push back this persistent and elusive virus."

The rapid spread of new variants was a "concern," said Kluge. He urged governments and citizens to increase coronavirus fighting measures to slow transmission and protect health systems from collapse.      

"For a short period of time, we will need to do more than we have done before, to intensify the public health and social measures to be certain that we can flatten the steep vertical line seen in some countries," he said.  

Kluge pleaded for mask-wearing, social distancing, and limited social gatherings to be followed more strictly, while continuing to respect quarantine measures.  

The warning came as coronavirus infections continue to surge across Europe. The mass rollout of immunization programs will eventually help slow the spread, but the WHO cautioned it will take many months, if not the entire year, before that happens.


Video editor: Francois Lamy

Search Trends