WUHAN, Jan. 29 (Reuters) - A World Health Organization-led team investigating the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic will meet Chinese scientists on Friday and plans to visit labs, markets and hospitals in Wuhan, the WHO said.
The team left its quarantine hotel in Wuhan on Thursday to begin field work, two weeks after arriving in the Chinese city where the virus emerged in late 2019.
The mission has been plagued by delays, concern over access and bickering between China and the United States, which has accused China of hiding the extent of the initial outbreak and criticised the terms of the visit, under which Chinese experts conducted the first phase of research.
“The team plans to visit hospitals, laboratories and markets. Field visits will include the Wuhan Institute of Virology, Huanan market, Wuhan CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) laboratory,” the WHO said in a tweet.
The team of independent experts, due to remain for two more weeks in China, will also speak with some of the first COVID-19 patients in Wuhan, it said.
“All hypotheses are on the table as the team follows the science in their work,” it said, adding: “They should receive the support, access and the data they need.”
Thea Fischer, a Danish team member, said visiting the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, where the virus was initially believed to have spread, would provide insight into whether it was the epicenter of the outbreak or just an amplifier of the virus.
“It is now that the actual field work can begin, and it is my expectation that for this part of the mission we will have unhindered access to the requested destinations and individuals,” Fischer told Reuters by phone from Wuhan.
“But it is important to remember that the success of this mission and origin-tracing is 100% depending on access to the relevant sources. No matter how competent we are, how hard we work and how many stones we try to turn, this can only be possible with the support from China,” she said.