It is undoubtedly an impossible mission. One year after the start of the epidemic of the new coronavirus, (60 million cases and nearly two million deaths worldwide) a first team made up of 10 experts (1) from the World Health Organization (WHO ) was finally due to land Thursday, January 14 in the city of Wuhan in China. This capital of 11 million inhabitants in the province of Hubei, is the first place in the world to have reported a case of Covid-19, at the end of 2019, and it is from Wuhan that the epidemic started. Whose true origin is still unknown.
→ INVESTIGATION. Covid-19: How investigations trace the virus trail
“In search of answers and not of culprits”
The stated objective of this mission, according to the WHO and China, is precisely to “Find the answers on the origins of the pandemic and its route of transmission to humans”, in order to prevent further epidemics. Michael Bryan, WHO’s director of health emergencies, reiterated that these experts were not looking for “The guilty or the accused ». An essential precision which must have made it possible to obtain the green light from the Chinese regime for this highly sensitive mission. “Politically, it is clear that China will never accept to take any responsibility for this pandemic”, assures Valérie Niquet, sinologist at the Foundation for Strategic Research (FRS), who does not expect much from this mission.
In a context where political and scientific dimensions merge, many questions arise about the program, still unknown, reserved for these ten experts (public health, virologist, immunologist, biologist, epidemiologist, animal health). “I fear that China will take them on guided tours of laboratories and hospitals, knock them out of lectures and invite them to big Chinese-style banquets without even showing them the Wuhan market where, moreover, there is no has nothing more to find “, assures Serge Morand, evolutionary biologist at CNRS, and currently teaching at the faculty of tropical medicine in Bangkok in Thailand.
“A year later, an investigation with a soiled crime scene and gagged witnesses”
From the Huanan market to Wuhan, there is no longer any usable clue because it was cleaned and sanitized on January 1, 2020. “ It’s like doing a police investigation a year after the fact, with a dirty crime scene and gagged witnesses », Continues Serge Morand who talks with many Chinese researchers. “We don’t know which samples the Chinese took, which animals, which people, which wastewater…? While these elements would allow the chain of contamination to be traced which I think could come from animal breeding farms ”. In his eyes, the hypothesis of a virus that has leaked from a lab remains valid, but he fears that the Chinese will never accept this possibility.
First stage of a long marathon
« Experts will have the right to Potemkin tours, fears Stéphane Corcuff, teacher-researcher at Sciences-Po Lyon, who will prove that if the virus appeared in Wuhan, its origin is elsewhere, outside of China “. And that it was introduced to China from abroad. “ It’s possible, do not rule out Serge Morand, but we have no proof or data to prove it “. And we may never know.
In the meantime, this first WHO mission will start with a two-week quarantine in a hotel in Wuhan before starting its official meetings for at least four weeks. It may be the first Chinese leg of a long marathon that is just beginning. The international community is impatiently awaiting the results of this first mission with full details of the meetings, visits and documents presented. ” All scientists demand full transparency »Concludes Serge Morand, who is already anticipating several other missions to come.