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Canadian doctor in charge of WHO’s coronavirus team headed to China

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An advance team of international experts led by the World Health Organization (WHO) has left for Beijing on Sunday to help investigate China’s coronavirus epidemic.

In charge of the specially picked team is Dr. Bruce Aylward, a Canadian epidemiologist and emergencies expert.

Aylward, who grew up in Newfoundland, joined the WHO in 1992 and has worked for years in immunization, communicable diseases control and polio eradication. He completed medical training at Memorial University in St. John’s, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.

The international mission came about after WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus visited Beijing for talks with President Xi Jinping and Chinese ministers in late January.

But it has taken nearly two weeks to get the government’s green light on its composition, which was not announced, other than to say that Aylward was heading it.

“I’ve just been at the airport seeing off members of an advance team for the @WHO-led #2019nCoV international expert mission to #China, led by Dr Bruce Aylward, veteran of past public health emergencies,” Tedros said in a tweet from Geneva.

Dr. Sylvie Briand, who accompanied Tedros last month and stayed behind for talks with top Chinese health officials, told Reuters last week that they were discussing a list of experts with China.

“Because it is a joint mission, they need to be on board, it’s not just an international group going there. We have about 15 people,” said Briand, director of Global Infectious Hazard Preparedness at WHO.

The death toll from the coronavirus outbreak has jumped above 900, passing the number killed globally by the SARS epidemic, as authorities made plans for millions of people returning to work after an extended Lunar New Year break.

The virus, which has spread to two dozen countries, has killed some 2% of more than 40,000 cases worldwide, with 99 percent of infections in China, WHO figures show.

The WHO declared the outbreak a global emergency on Jan. 30, days after the Chinese central government imposed a lockdown on 60 million people in Hubei province and its capital Wuhan, epicenter of the virus that emerged in December in a seafood market.

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