By BRITT CLENNETT, ABC News
(HONG KONG) — It’s a question that has generated year-long discord between China and the West: how did this virus that plunged the world into crisis begin in the first place?
Last Thursday, a team of World Health Organization experts touched down in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, where the coronavirus was first detected in 2019, to start a much-delayed mission into the origins of the virus that has now killed more than two million people worldwide.
But first, like all travelers to China, the team of 10 must undertake a strict two-week quarantine. Some of them have been tweeting from their hotels in Wuhan, using Virtual Private Networks to circumvent a ban on Twitter in the country.
On Monday — day four of their quarantine — British-American zoologist Peter Daszak tweeted a picture of his breakfast along with a sunrise over Wuhan, ahead of “a day packed with meetings.”
Meanwhile, on day three, Dutch virologist Marion Koopmans posted a video of a medical worker in hazmat gear standing outside her door: “Morning call for temperature check. We are well taken care of!”
Their investigation takes place against a backdrop of fierce criticism over China’s handling of the outbreak which has intensified political friction between Beijing and Washington as well as other countries, including Australia.
It hasn’t been easy to get the mission off the ground with months of back-and-forth wrangling and setbacks, including reports of visas being denied, and there’s still lingering skepticism over how much access the team will have.
On Monday, a panel of experts examining the pandemic released a damning report criticizing governments worldwide for responding slowly and ineffectively.
The Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response, led by former New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark and former Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, was also critical of the World Health Organization for not declaring an international emergency until Jan. 30.
Specifically, the review said China could have done more to curb the initial outbreak back in January last year. Responding to the criticism, a Chinese spokesperson said, “Of course we should strive to do better, as should all other countries such as the United States, Britain, Japan.”
China’s extreme lockdown approach has seen it emerge as the only major economy to bounce back from a pandemic slump and, until recently, the country had gone months with few new cases.
However, it’s now facing levels not seen since March 2020.
China reported more than 100 new COVID-19 cases for a seventh day on Tuesday, including one in the capital city of Beijing.
The recent clusters have prompted authorities to lock down areas in Hebei, Jilin and Heilongjiang provinces, affecting more than 29 million people.
There are now concerns that the upcoming Chinese New Year holiday could prompt a massive surge of the virus across the country if the usual mass migration takes place when the travel usually starts on Jan. 28. Chinese authorities are urging citizens to stay put.
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