BEIJING – Two World Health Organization experts were heading to the Chinese capital on Friday to lay the groundwork for an investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.
An animal health expert and an epidemiologist will meet Chinese counterparts in Beijing to work out logistics, places to visit and the participants for a WHO-led international mission, the U.N. organization said.
A major issue will be to “look at whether or not it jumped from species to human, and what species it jumped from,” WHO spokesperson Dr. Margaret Harris said at a briefing in Geneva.
Scientists believe the virus may have originated in bats and was transmitted to another mammal such as a civet cat or an armadillo-like pangolin before being passed on to people.
A cluster of infections late last year focused initial attention on a fresh food market in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, but the discovery of earlier cases suggests the animal-to-human jump may have happened elsewhere.
In an effort to block future outbreaks, China has cracked down on the trade in wildlife and closed some markets, while enforcing strict containment measures that appear to have virtually stopped new local infections.
The WHO mission is politically sensitive, with the U.S. — the top funder of the U.N. body — moving to cut ties with it over allegations it mishandled the outbreak and is biased toward China.
“China took the lead in inviting WHO experts to investigate and discuss scientific virus tracing,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said Friday.