File photo: Members of the World Health Organization (WHO) team, tasked with investigating the origins of the coronavirus disease in Wuhan. Photograph:( Reuters )
The inspection of the Wuhan virology institute, which conducts research on the world's most dangerous diseases, will be one of the most-watched stops on the team's probe into the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic
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.
The inspection of the Wuhan virology institute, which conducts research on the world's most dangerous diseases, will be one of the most-watched stops on the team's probe into the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The sensitive mission, which China had delayed throughout the first year of the pandemic, has a remit to explore how the virus jumped from animal to human.
There was speculation early in the pandemic that the virus could have accidentally leaked from the biosafety lab in Wuhan.
Then-US president Donald Trump and his supporters seized on those rumours and amplified them with conspiracy theories that China deliberately leaked the virus.
Chinese state broadcaster CGTN said Wednesday the WHO team would "visit the national biosafety laboratory and exchange ideas with experts of the institute on their daily work, international scientific cooperation, anti-epidemic efforts and contribution".
The independent team has already visited key hospitals, the regional disease control centre and the city's Huanan seafood market, where the first cluster of infections was believed to have originated late in 2019.
Earlier, WHO blasted critics of its investigation into the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic and challenged those claiming to know better to come forward with the smoking gun.
The UN agency's emergencies director Michael Ryan hit out at those sniping at the mission and said people claiming they have information on how the pandemic broke out should emerge from the shadows.
The WHO mission comes with heavy political baggage, China refused the team access until mid-January and there are question marks over what the experts can hope to find, one year on.
The centre in the province of Hubei, which fights epidemic diseases in animals, could provide information on how a coronavirus endemic in horseshoe bats in southwest China might have crossed into humans, possibly via an intermediary species.
Studies suggest the virus could have been transferred from mink or pangolins, but there has also been speculation that traders dealing in bat products could have carried the disease for months before it began to spread in Wuhan.