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WHO probe team visits Wuhan market at heart of first COVID-19 outbreak

WHO probe team visits Wuhan market at heart of first COVID-19 outbreak

A worker in a protective overall disinfects a vehicle from the World Health Organization convoy at the Baishazhou wholesale market on Jan 31, 2021. (Photo: AP/Ng Han Guan)

WUHAN: A team of World Health Organization (WHO) experts investigating the origins of COVID-19 visited a market in Wuhan on Sunday (Jan 31) where one of the first reported clusters of infections emerged over a year ago.

Members of the group arrived at Huanan seafood market - which has been sealed since January last year - driving into its barricaded premises as guards quickly blocked others from entering, according to AFP journalists at the scene.

The mission, delayed by China and weighed down by political baggage, has a remit to explore how the virus jumped from animal to human.

Members of a World Health Organization team investigating the origins of COVID-19 arrived at the closed Huanan Seafood wholesale market in Wuhan on Jan 31, 2021. (Photo: AFP/Hector Retamal) Members of a WHO team investigating the origins of Covid-19 arrived at the closed Huanan Seafood wholesale market in Wuhan on Sunday AFP/HECTOR RETAMAL

But with the fieldwork element of a trip in its early stages, WHO officials have already downplayed expectations of finding the source of a virus which has killed more than 2 million people and devastated the global economy.

On Sunday, the WHO team arrived at the Huanan market as part of a long-planned trip now closely monitored by the Chinese authorities.

READ: White House demands 'robust' international probe into COVID-19 origins

The experts did not take any questions and the sprawling market remains boarded up.

Security staff members told reporters outside to leave and shook a tall ladder on which a photographer was sitting for a better view.

A plainclothes security personnel uses his umbrella to block journalists from filming after the World Health Organization team arrive at the Baishazhou wholesale market, Jan 31, 2021. (Photo: AP/Ng Han Guan) A plainclothes security person uses his umbrella to block journalists from filming after the World Health Organization team arrive at the Baishazhou wholesale market on the third day of field visit in Wuhan in central China's Hubei province on Sunday, Jan. 31, 2021. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Earlier this week, state media outlet Global Times published a report downplaying the importance of Huanan as an early epicentre of the virus, claiming "subsequent investigations" have suggested the market was not the source of the outbreak.

Since being released from a two-week quarantine on Thursday, the team has visited hospitals and markets, as well as an exhibition commemorating Wuhan's battle with the virus, which included a 76-day lockdown of the city of 11 million.

The WHO, which has sought to manage expectations for the mission, said on Friday that team members would be limited to visits organised by their Chinese hosts and would not have any contact with community members, due to health restrictions.

No full itinerary for the team's two weeks of field work has been announced, and journalists covering the tightly controlled visit have been kept at a distance from team members.

Chinese authorities have relentlessly pushed a positive narrative of heroism and decisive, swift action in their fight against the coronavirus that has spurred an economic recovery and kept deaths down to 4,636.

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Source: AFP/zl

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