Two World Health Organisation experts will spend the next two days in the Chinese capital to lay the groundwork for a larger mission to investigate the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.
One animal health expert and one epidemiologist during their visit will work to fix the “scope and terms of reference” for the future mission aimed at learning how the virus jumped from animals to humans, the statement from the United Nations body said.
Scientists believe the virus may have originated in bats, then was transmitted through another mammal such as a civet cat or an armadillo-like pangolin before being passed on to people at a fresh food market in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year.
In an effort to block future outbreaks, China has cracked down on the trade in wildlife and closed some wet markets, while enforcing strict containment measures that appear to have virtually stopped new local infections.
The WHO mission is politically sensitive, with the US — the organisation’s top funder — moving to cut ties with it over allegations it mishandled the outbreak and is biased toward China.
More than 120 nations called for an investigation into the origins of the virus at the World Health Assembly in May.