KEY POINTS

  • WHO said it was sending an epidemiologist and an animal health expert as its advance team to begin investigating the pandemic's origins in Wuhan, China
  • Chinese scientists will work alongside the WHO experts in deciding the scope of the investigation
  • Additional experts will be sent WHO to assist if necessary

The World Health Organization said Friday an advance team was en route to China to begin investigating the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.

Spokeswoman Margaret Harris said WHO was sending two specialists, an animal health expert and an epidemiologist to trace the virus’ origins and the pair had left ahead of Harris’ update. She said the two specialists will work with a team of Chinese scientists after arriving to establish the scope of the investigation and determine if a larger team is necessary.

“One of the big issues that everybody is interested in, and of course that’s why we’re sending an animal health expert, is to look at whether or not it jumped from species to a human and what species it jumped from,” Harris told reporters. “We know it’s very, very similar to the virus in the bat, but did it go through an intermediate species? This is a question we all need answered.”

Harris’ statement cited the theory a bat was the source of the initial outbreak in Wuhan’s wet market in December 2019.

Some have taken it a step further by pushing conspiracy theories the bat, and virus itself, originated in a lab near Wuhan’s wet market -- a conspiracy theory pushed by the Trump administration repeatedly as part of its attacks on China over the pandemic. However, no evidence has been provided and China has vehemently denied the allegations.

“If there was wrongdoing -- and we may never know that for sure -- it will be very hard to uncover,” Georgetown law Professor Lawrence Gostin told Reuters. “The wet market was closed immediately. There is no independent record, evaluation or investigation of a potential zoonotic source, so it will be very hard to go back and piece together.”

Fresh tests for Wuhan as cluster sparks mass virus screening Fresh tests for Wuhan as cluster sparks mass virus screening Photo: AFPTV / Lillian DING