WHO experts to arrive in Wuhan for delayed virus probe

WHO experts to arrive in Wuhan for delayed virus probe
Residents undergo COVID-19 coronavirus tests at the basement of a residential compound as part of a mass testing programme following new cases of the virus emerging in Shijiazhuang, in central Hebei province on Jan. 12, 2021. (File/AFP)
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Updated 12 January 2021

WHO experts to arrive in Wuhan for delayed virus probe

WHO experts to arrive in Wuhan for delayed virus probe
  • The ten scientists will investigate the origins of the new virus in a politically fraught mission
  • The World Health Organization team will leave from Singapore and fly straight to Wuhan

BEIJING: A team of WHO experts will land directly in Wuhan on Thursday, China’s foreign ministry said Tuesday, starting their long-delayed probe into COVID-19 at the virus epicenter.
The ten scientists will investigate the origins of the new virus in a politically fraught mission that comes more than a year after the pandemic began and after accusations Beijing has tried to thwart the project.
The World Health Organization team will leave from Singapore and fly straight to Wuhan, the central city where the first cluster of cases was detected in December 2019.
Foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters this was the “current plan” and said the WHO team was set to arrive Thursday.
It is expected that they will have to complete two weeks of quarantine due to China’s strict border restrictions.
The investigation had been set to start last week but a last-minute hold up over entry permissions in China scuppered plans.
Marion Koopmans, part of the WHO team and head of the viroscience department at Rotterdam’s Erasmus University Medical Center, said they wanted to “reconstruct” how the pandemic started.
“I think it would be the start of a probably longer term project,” she told Chinese state broadcaster CGTN.
Beijing has argued that Wuhan is not necessarily the source of the virus, and officials have pushed theories that it began abroad.
When asked about the chance that the virus could have emerged overseas, Koopmans said the WHO team would “have an open mind to all hypotheses.”
“At this stage I don’t think we should rule anything out, but it is important to start where, obviously in Wuhan, a big outbreak occurred,” she said.
Experts say solving the mystery of how the virus first jumped from animals to humans is crucial to preventing another pandemic.
The WHO insisted this week that the investigation was not looking for “somebody to blame.”
Emergencies director at the UN health body Michael Ryan said the delayed mission was about science, not politics.
“Understanding the origins of disease is not about finding somebody to blame,” Ryan told a press conference in Geneva.
“It is about finding the scientific answers about the very important interface between the animal kingdom and the human kingdom.”
The novel coronavirus has killed nearly two million people since the outbreak first emerged in Wuhan.
Thousands of mutations in the virus have taken place as it has passed from person to person around the world, but new variants recently detected in Britain and South Africa are seemingly more contagious.


Netherlands anti-curfew protests spark clashes with police, looting

In this image made from video, a COVID-19 testing center is seen after being set on fire in Urk, 80 kilometers northeast of Amsterdam, on Jan. 23, 2021. (Pro News via AP)
Updated 23 min 25 sec ago

Netherlands anti-curfew protests spark clashes with police, looting

In this image made from video, a COVID-19 testing center is seen after being set on fire in Urk, 80 kilometers northeast of Amsterdam, on Jan. 23, 2021. (Pro News via AP)
  • Vehicles burned, businesses at Eindhoven’s central train station looted
  • A Covid-19 testing center was set on fire on Saturday evening in the village of Urk

THE HAGUE: Protests against a curfew to curb the spread of Covid-19 in the Netherlands degenerated into clashes with police and looting in cities across the country Sunday, authorities and reports said.
Police used water cannon and dogs in Amsterdam, public television NOS reported, after hundreds gathered to protest the curfew which is set to last until February 10 and is the country’s first since World War II.
In the southern city of Eindhoven, police fired tear gas to disperse a crowd of several hundred, regional television Omroep Brabant reported. At least 30 people were arrested there, according to police.
A number of vehicles were burned and businesses at Eindhoven’s central train station were also looted, media reports said.
Dutch rail company NS called on travelers to avoid the Eindhoven station, where it said train circulation was interrupted due to the intervention of emergency services nearby.
Eindhoven mayor John Jorritsma told reporters that if the country continued “down this path, then I think we are heading for civil war.”
Incidents were also reported in The Hague, Breda, Arnhem, Tilburg, Enschede, Appeldoorn, Venlo and Ruremond.
A Covid-19 testing center was set on fire on Saturday evening in the village of Urk in the north of the country, local authorities said.
“The fire in a screening center in Urk goes beyond all limits,” Health Minister Hugo de Jonge said on Sunday.
Violators of the 9 p.m. to 4:30 am curfew, which Prime Minister Mark Rutte says is needed to bring case numbers down, face a 95-euro ($115) fine.
Exemptions are possible, in particular for people returning from funerals or those having to work, but on condition that they present a certificate.
Rutte also announced on Wednesday a ban on flights from Britain, South Africa and South America, and a cut in the number of guests allowed in people’s homes to one, from the previous limit of two.
New variants of the virus have led to deep concern in Europe, particularly a more infectious strain that first emerged in Britain.
The Netherlands was already under its toughest measures since the start of the pandemic, with bars and restaurants having closed in October, and schools and non-essential shops shut since December.
Dutch lawmakers on Thursday approved Rutte’s curfew plan, though on condition that it begin half an hour later than the original 8:30 p.m. start time.
The move had faced criticism led by far-right politician Geert Wilders, who called it “careless” and “disproportionate.”
“I stand here for freedom. I lost it myself,” said Wilders, who has for years been under round-the-clock security after receiving death threats.
“I do not accept that we unnecessarily... introduce curfews while there are alternatives.”
Rutte and his cabinet resigned on January 22 over a scandal involving child tax benefits, but they will continue to govern until elections in mid-March.