The World Health Organization has announced it will send a team of experts to China in the coming weeks to investigate potential animal hosts of the COVID-19 virus.
“Identifying the origin of emerging viral disease has proven complex in past epidemics in different countries,” the WHO said in a statement released Tuesday evening local time. “A well planned series of scientific researches will advance the understanding of animal reservoirs and the route of transmission to humans.”
Zhao Lijian, a spokesperson for China’s foreign ministry, voiced support for the upcoming trip as well as other “scientific research by international scientists on the virus’ origin and transmission routes” during his regular press conference Tuesday.
Scientists with the WHO say they’ve been in touch with China about the trip since early May.
“There is discussion with our counterparts in China for a further mission, which would be more academic in focus and really focus on looking at what happened at the beginning in terms of the exposures with different animals, so that we can look to have an approach to find the zoonotic source,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, head of the WHO’s emerging diseases and zoonosis unit.
Previously, China had called a proposed probe into the origin of the new disease a “politically motivated” move. Authorities from Australia and the European Union had proposed such an investigation prior to an annual meeting of the WHO’s member states in May.
At that meeting, China and the other 193 WHO members attending voted in favor of an independent review into the global COVID-19 response, which did not appear to target China specifically.
Editor: David Paulk.
(Header image: The World Health Organization’s crest at the entrance to its headquarters in Geneva, Feb. 24, 2020. Fabrice Coffrini/People Visual)