World Health Organization team probing COVID-19 visits Wuhan lab, meets 'Bat Woman'

WHO team visits Wuhan Institute of Virology on COVID-19 origins investigation mission

The WHO team visited the P4 lab inside the Wuhan Institute of Virology, the state-owned Global Times reported.

The WHO team began its investigation in the Chinese city of Wuhan last Friday.

"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.

A team of experts led by the World Health Organization (WHO) investigating the origins of COVID-19 on Wednesday visited a laboratory in China's Wuhan Institute of Virology that American officials have suggested could have been the source of the outbreak.

Daszak said Chinese authorities had not refused any of the team's requests to visit facilities or meet with key figures. Uniformed and plainclothes security guards stood watch along the facility's gated front entrance, but there was no sign of the protective suits team members had donned on Tuesday during a visit to an animal disease research center.

The WHO experts stayed inside the institute for almost four hours, before driving away without stopping to talk to media waiting outside.

"And we are able to, in a rational way. explain why some of them are totally irrational, why some of them could make sense, and why some of them can be explained or not explained", he said.

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Along with the institute, the World Health Organization team that includes experts from 10 nations has visited hospitals, research institutes and a traditional market tied to the original outbreak.

Shi Zhengli, a leading virologist at the Wuhan lab, is widely known as the "bat woman" for her extensive research into the coronavirus that caused the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in China in 2003. China has strongly denied the accusation.

There was speculation early in the pandemic that the virus could have accidentally leaked from the biosafety lab in Wuhan, although there was no evidence to back up that theory.

Official statistics shows that there were at least 16 confirmed COVID-19 cases a year ago among almost 10,000 people living in the area when the coronavirus surfaced. It is likely to take years to confirm the origins of the virus because of the exhaustive research, including taking animal samples, genetic analysis and epidemiological studies required to pin down an outbreak's animal reservoir.

The virus that causes COVID-19 is suspected of originating in bats and its outbreak was first detected in Wuhan.

One scenario being scrutinised more closely by the team is the possibility that the virus could have been circulating long before it was first identified in Wuhan. China has since reported more than 89,000 cases and 4,600 deaths, with new cases largely concentrated in its northeast and local lockdowns and travel restrictions being imposed to contain the outbreaks.

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