A team of World Health Organization experts investigating the origin of the pandemic has started its mission in the Chinese city of Wuhan by visiting some of the places first hit by the coronavirus.
The team of 15 scientists has in recent days visited a live animal market, a hospital and a disease control center in the city, where the virus emerged in late 2019.
The inquiry will most likely be painstaking, and it could be months or years before the team uncovers answers about how the coronavirus initially spread to humans. Still, the W.H.O. experts say they are gaining important insights on the ground from Chinese scientists during their first visit, which will conclude in mid-February.
“We’ve decided to stay away from theories, because there are so many theories,” Marion Koopmans, a Dutch virologist on the team, said in a telephone interview. “We are trying to look at the data and to build a list of what are possible sources.”
China has tried to use the inquiry to its political benefit, saying that the government is showing transparency by allowing experts into the country.
But the authorities have continued to control the visit of the scientists, forcing them to undergo two weeks of quarantine in Wuhan and setting their itinerary. On Saturday, the experts were taken to a government-run museum celebrating China’s response to the outbreak, before visiting a hospital that treated some of the first people to fall ill with the virus.
The W.H.O. team also visited the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan. Scientists initially believed the outbreak began at that market — lots of the first cases were linked to it — but many experts now doubt that theory.