Photo taken on Jan. 22, 2020 shows an exterior view of the headquarters of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva, Switzerland. The WHO on Wednesday night extended to Thursday its emergency talks on whether the novel coronavirus outbreak in China constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). (Xinhua/Liu Qu)

Experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) are going to China this weekend to prepare for an international mission later to identify the zoonotic source of COVID-19, the WHO chief said Tuesday.

According to WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at Tuesday’s virtual media briefing, “all preparations have been finalized and WHO experts will be traveling to China this weekend to prepare scientific plans with their Chinese counterparts for identifying the zoonotic source of the disease.”

Tedros specified that the experts will develop the scope and terms of reference for a WHO-led international mission, whose objective is to advance the understanding of animal hosts for COVID-19 and ascertain how the disease jumped between animals and humans.”Identifying the origin of emerging viral disease has proven complex in past epidemics in different countries.

A well planned series of scientific researches will advance the understanding of animal reservoirs and the route of #COVID19 transmission to humans,” Tedros said later on Twitter after the media briefing.”This process is an evolving endeavor which may lead to further international scientific research and collaboration globally,” Tedros tweeted.

Michael Ryan, executive director of the WHO Health Emergencies Program, told the media briefing that answers to questions concerning the zoonotic source of a disease can sometimes be elusive, like in the cases of Ebola, MERS and SARS, which have taken quite some time as well as a meticulous multi-sectoral approach.

In the case of COVID-19, Ryan said identifying the zoonotic origin could involve the wild animal kingdom, the farmed animal kingdom, as well as the interfaces between those animals and humans.”Understanding that the narrative and the pathway by which this virus entered the human population is extremely important, but it’s not always a straightforward process of being able to get that answer,” he said.

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