Team of Investigators Visits Chinese Virus Lab at Center of COVID Suspicions


World Health Organization investigators on Wednesday visited a laboratory in the Chinese city of Wuhan that has been the subject of speculation about the origins of the coronavirus.

The WHO team’s visit to the Wuhan Institute of Virology was a highlight of their mission to gather data and search for clues as to where the virus originated and how it spread.

“We’re looking forward to meeting with all the key people here and asking all the important questions that need to be asked,” zoologist and team member Peter Daszak said, according to footage run by Japanese broadcaster TBS.

Reporters followed the team to the high security facility, but as with past visits, they were given little direct access to investigators, who have provided scant details of their mission thus far. Uniformed and plainclothes security guards stood watch along the facility’s gated front entrance.

The team left after around three hours without speaking to waiting journalists.

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At a daily briefing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said the team also met on Wednesday with experts from Huazhong Agricultural University.

“It should be noted that virus traceability is a complex scientific issue, and we need to provide sufficient space for experts to conduct scientific research,” Wang said.

“China will continue to cooperate with WHO in an open, transparent and responsible manner, and make its contribution to better prevent future risks and protect the lives and health of people in all countries.”

Following two weeks in quarantine, the WHO team that includes experts in veterinary medicine, virology, food safety and epidemiology from 10 nations has over the past six days visited hospitals, research institutes and a wet market linked to many of the first cases.

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Their visit followed months of negotiations as China seeks to retain tight control over information about the outbreak and the investigation into its origins.

One of China’s top virus research labs, the Wuhan Institute of Virology built an archive of genetic information about bat coronaviruses after the 2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome.

That has led to allegations that it may have been responsible for the original COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan in late 2019.

China has strongly denied that possibility and has promoted unproven theories that the virus may have originated elsewhere or even been brought into the country from overseas with imports of frozen seafood, a notion roundly rejected by international scientists and agencies.

The institute’s deputy director is Shi Zhengli, a virologist who has worked with Daszak and has published widely in academic journals in an attempt to disprove theories that the virus leaked — either intentionally or accidentally — from the lab.

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Confirmation of the origins of the virus is likely to take years. Pinning down an outbreak’s source typically requires exhaustive research, including taking animal samples, genetic analysis and epidemiological studies.

The first clusters of COVID-19 were detected in Wuhan in late 2019, eventually prompting the government to put the city of 11 million under a strict 76-day lockdown.

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