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Last week, the UN agency said: “A two-person WHO team has recently concluded its three-week assignment in China to lay the groundwork for an investigation into the source of the virus. This was in advance of the full mission, therefore, there are no ‘results of the WHO’s recent mission’ to share.”

A man cross an empty highway road on February 3, 2020 in Wuhan, China. Photo by Getty Images

Huang Yanzhong, a senior fellow for global health at the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations, said the investigation would need unrestricted access in Wuhan as well as other areas of China, such as south-western Yunnan province, to produce authoritative results.

“It would be unrealistic to expect that the inquiry would be a purely scientific endeavour,” Huang said. To both please China and also appear neutral and scientific, the WHO might focus purely on the animal origin of the virus rather than public health failures, he added.

In response to questions from the FT this week, the WHO said its advance team had remote conversations with senior scientists from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. It agreed with China that preliminary epidemiological studies around the Wuhan market and the first cluster of cases would be conducted in the coming weeks and months.

“The international team will work with Chinese researchers to support these studies initially remotely, and later locally. The exact timing will depend on the advance and preliminary results of the initial studies,” the organization said.

The WHO declined to comment on whether the team had intended to visit Wuhan.

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