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Don't expect a conclusion from WHO's China visit, says expert

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Expectations should be “very low” that a World Health Organization team of experts tasked with investigating the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic will reach a conclusion from their trip to China this month, a health expert affiliated with the WHO said.

FILE PHOTO: A logo is pictured outside a building of the World Health Organization (WHO) during an executive board meeting on update on the coronavirus outbreak, in Geneva, Switzerland, February 6, 2020. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

“I would be inclined to set the expectations of a conclusion very low for this visit,” Dr. Dale Fisher, chair of the Global Outbreak Alert & Response Network coordinated by the WHO, said in an interview on Monday at the Reuters Next conference.

A team of international experts from the WHO will arrive in China on Jan. 14, Chinese authorities said on Monday. The National Health Commission, which announced the arrival date, delayed from its early January schedule, did not detail the team’s itinerary, however.

China has been accused by some of a cover-up that delayed its initial response, allowing the virus to spread since it first emerged in the central city of Wuhan late in 2019.

The United States has called for a “transparent” WHO-led investigation and criticised its terms, which allowed Chinese scientists to do the first phase of preliminary research.

“I think it’s an important meeting but it shouldn’t be overrated in terms of an outcome this time,” said Fisher, who took part in a WHO mission to Wuhan last year.

The experts will meet their Chinese counterparts and exchange notes on what data they have and what studies they will further have to do, said Fisher, who is also a professor of medicine at the National University of Singapore.

Though he doesn’t expect all the answers from this trip, Fisher believes the chances of finding the origin of the pandemic are much better than they were year ago, because experts now know a lot more about what data they will need to collect based on information they already have: for example, antibody studies from residual serums in other countries.

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Reporting by Miyoung Kim and Sayantani Ghosh in Singapore; Editing by Alex Richardson