WHO rejects China foreign food virus idea

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The World Health Organisation is not following up on claims that the novel coronavirus may have originally reached China through foreign frozen food, UN health agency expert Peter Embarek says, dismissing a Chinese theory.

The WHO expert on food and animal diseases was a leading member of a team of international and Chinese scientists who recently visited the Chinese city of Wuhan to search for the origin of the virus where it was first detected in late 2019.

At the end of the mission last week, senior Chinese scientist Liang Wannian had talked at length about the frozen food theory at a press conference in Wuhan.

Embarek told a press briefing in Geneva on Thursday that there was a possibility that the virus was re-imported to China in 2020 through frozen products, at a time when there were many coronavirus outbreaks around the world, including in food factories.

Embarek cautioned that such a path of transmission would be very unusual, as Chinese scientists have found very few contaminated products despite intensive investigations.

In 2019, the virus was not yet circulating in the world and there were no outbreaks in foreign food processing plants.

"Therefore the hypothesis of importing the virus to China through that route is not something we are looking at," Embarek said.

Instead, the WHO is looking into the possibility that wild animals that carried the virus were farmed in southern China and were then sold in a market further north in Wuhan.

According to Embarek, many frozen products at the market have been traced back to the south.