A team of investigators working on behalf of the World Health Organization wrapped up a visit on Wednesday to a major virus research laboratory in China’s central city of Wuhan, in its search for clues to the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The experts spent about 3-1/2 hours at the heavily-guarded Wuhan Institute of Virology, which has been at the centre of some conspiracy theories that claim a laboratory leak caused the city’s first coronavirus outbreak at the end of 2019.
Most scientists reject the hypothesis, but some speculate that a virus captured from the wild could have figured in lab experiments to test the risks of a human spillover and then escaped via an infected staff member.
“Very interesting. Many questions,” Thea Fischer, a Danish member of the team, called from her car as it sped away, in response to a question whether the team had found anything.
Some scientists have called for China to release details of all coronavirus samples studied at the lab, to see which most closely resembles SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the respiratory disease.
“I am looking forward to a very productive day, meeting the key people here and asking all the important questions that need to be asked,” team member Peter Daszak, who is the president of the EcoHealth Alliance, said from his car as it arrived earlier.
The WHO, which has sought to manage expectations for the mission, has said its members would be limited to visits organised by their Chinese hosts and have no contact with community members, because of health curbs.
While the novel coronavirus that sparked the pandemic was first identified in Wuhan, Beijing has sought to cast doubt on the notion that it originated in China, pointing to imported frozen food as a conduit.
The team will spend two weeks in field work after having completed two weeks in hotel quarantine after arrival in Wuhan.