File photo: Members of the World Health Organization (WHO) team, tasked with investigating the origins of the coronavirus disease in Wuhan. Photograph:( Reuters )
The visit by the WHO team took months to negotiate after China only agreed to it amid massive international pressure at the World Health Assembly meeting last May, and Beijing has continued to deny calls for a strictly independent investigation
The World Health Organization team investigating the origins of the coronavirus in Wuhan said on Friday that the Chinese side granted full access to all sites and personnel they requested, a level of openness that even they hadn't expected.
Dominic Dwyer, a microbiologist and infectious diseases expert, said the team in Wuhan had received the access it requested from Chinese authorities as it tries to understand the early days of the novel coronavirus outbreak first identified in Wuhan.
"Everybody knows how it really exploded out of Huanan market in Wuhan, but the key is what was happening around that time and before," Dwyer said.
Peter Daszak said the team has now concluded site visits and will spend the next few days trolling through data and consulting with Chinese experts before presenting a summary of their findings at a news briefing prior to their departure on Wednesday.
The investigators have visited hospitals, research facilities and the seafood market where the first outbreak was identified, although their contacts in Wuhan are limited to visits organised by their Chinese hosts.
Dwyer said the team had finished its site visits and was preparing to present its findings as clearly as possible, given the intense level of interest, before the team's 28-day visas expire towards the end of next week.
He said that more work needed to be done investigating how the virus could have been transmitted by animals, including bats, as well as into antibodies to coronavirus in people who did not show symptoms of the disease.
The short term was "reviewing what we know now and bringing all that data together and there are going to be a series of longer-term projects, and this could take some years," Dwyer said.
The origin of the coronavirus has become highly politicised following accusations that China was not transparent in its early handling of the outbreak.
Some, including people close to former US President Donald Trump, had speculated the Institute may have been the origin of the outbreak because of its large collection of bat virus specimens and that Chinese authorities were covering up the truth.
China has strongly denied the possibility of a leak from the lab and has promoted unproven theories that the virus may have originated elsewhere before being brought to Wuhan, including possibly on imported frozen food packaging.
The visit by the WHO team took months to negotiate after China only agreed to it amid massive international pressure at the World Health Assembly meeting last May, and Beijing has continued to deny calls for a strictly independent investigation.
Authorities have kept a tight hold on information about the possible causes of the pandemic that has now sickened more than 105 million people and killed more than 2.2 million worldwide.