World Health Organization inspectors visited a laboratory in China’s Wuhan city on Wednesday that US officials suggested could have been the source of the coronavirus.
The inspection of the Wuhan Virus Institute, which conducts research on the world’s most dangerous diseases, will be one of the most considered stops on the team’s probe into the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The sensitive mission, which China had delayed during the first year of the pandemic, has a mission to explore how the virus jumped from animal to human.
But there are still questions about what the experts can hope to find after so much time has passed.
The convoy of cars drove past security to enter a virology institute shrouded in fog Wednesday morning, with the first car pausing briefly to take questions from journalists.
WHO team member Peter Daszak said the team “looks forward to a very productive day and to asking all the questions we know need to be asked”.
Researchers believe that Covid-19 – which first originated in Wuhan and has killed more than two million people worldwide – originated in bats and could have been transmitted to humans via another mammal.
But there are no definitive answers so far.
It was speculated early in the pandemic that the virus could have been accidentally leaked from the Wuhan Biosafety Laboratory, although there was no evidence to support that theory.
The then US President Donald Trump and his supporters captured these rumors and reinforced them with conspiracy theories that China deliberately leaked the virus.
Last year, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo insisted that there was “significant evidence” that the virus came from the laboratory, while not releasing any evidence and acknowledging that there was no security.
The Chinese state broadcaster CGTN said the WHO team would “visit the National Biosafety Laboratory and exchange ideas with the institute’s experts on their daily work, international scientific cooperation, anti-epidemic efforts and contributions”.
China has been criticized at home and abroad for recording the first outbreak and covert information when it first appeared in Wuhan in December 2019.
But Daszak told reporters on Tuesday that the mission continued “very well” as the group was driven into an animal welfare center.
China is also determined to focus on its recovery from the outbreak, and the WHO team toured a propaganda exhibition celebrating China’s recovery from the Wuhan pandemic on Saturday.
On Sunday, the team went to the market in Wuhan, where one of the first reported clusters of infections occurred more than a year ago, which Daszak tweeted was a “critical” stop.
Shi Zhengli, one of China’s leading experts on coronavirus in bats and deputy head of the Wuhan Laboratory, raised some eyebrows in an interview in June 2020 with Scientific American, in which she said she was initially worried about the virus leaking from the plant. .
But subsequent checks revealed that none of the gene sequences matched the viruses kept in the laboratory, Shi said, adding: “I had not slept a blink for several days.”
She later said she would “risk her life that (the new coronavirus) had nothing to do with the laboratory”, according to Chinese state media.