WHO field studies can look beyond China: China Daily editorial
It is not surprising that the World Health Organization expert team's field study in Wuhan has attracted so much attention, as the demand for answers about the novel coronavirus and how the outbreak began is immense.
But expectations need to be managed. Just because the outbreak was first identified via a cluster of infections of unknown cause in the city does not pinpoint the capital of Hubei province as being the source of the outbreak.
As the WHO team said in a news briefing on Tuesday, there is no indication the virus was in Wuhan before December 2019.
That the study could not find any evidence to determine the virus originated in Wuhan is to be expected as a fact-strengthening piece of evidence that the virus appeared in other countries before it was detected in Wuhan.
The animal source of the virus has not yet been identified, and as the WHO team has cautioned, it has taken years for earlier quests into the origins of outbreaks to come up with answers.
The message is clear that the origin of the virus is so complicated that it would be naive to believe that a field study conducted where the first cluster of infections were identified would be able to find out where the virus originated.
Having conducted its study in Wuhan, the WHO should now carry out field studies in other countries as well, since it is important that any hypotheses on the origin of the outbreak are "not geographically bound", as WHO expert Peter Ben Embarek said.
For example, field studies can also be conducted in Italy and Spain where there were infections much earlier than those detected in Wuhan. And in the United States, which also had infections weeks before the outbreak was first identified in China, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
China's stance has been consistent: The origin of the virus is a matter of science. As such, it has provided a high level of cooperation to the WHO expert team and has done whatever it can to cooperate with its field study.
The experts on the team had productive discussions with the Chinese side and visited hospitals, markets and Wuhan CDC. The team also visited the Wuhan Institute of Virology and talked with experts from Huazhong Agricultural University.
Their visit to the Wuhan Institute of Virology convinced them that there is no evidence to support the conspiracy theories that the virus could have accidentally leaked from the institute.
As a mission of scientific study, it is natural for their visit to throw up more questions that need answering. As Marion Koopmans, a virologist and member of the WHO team, said that the quest is "to search for evidence wherever indicated".