Commuters wearing face masks to protect against the spread of the new coronavirus walk through a subway station in Beijing, July 9, 2020.
Commuters wearing face masks to protect against the spread of the new coronavirus walk through a subway station in Beijing, July 9, 2020.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says its two-man advance team left for China Friday to establish the ground work for an investigation into the origins of COVID-19 that sparked the global pandemic.

In a virtual briefing at WHO headquarters in Geneva, spokeswoman Margaret Harris said the two experts are specialists in animal health and epidemiology and they will work with Chinese scientists to determine the scope and itinerary of the investigation.

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She said that would involve negotiations on issues including the composition of the full investigation team and what skills are needed.

The virus is believed to have emerged in a wholesale market in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year, since then closed, after jumping the species barrier from the animal kingdom to infect humans.

Harris said the scientists want to determine in which species the virus originated and how it got to humans. She said it has long been assumed the virus originated in a bat, but they would like to know if it went through another, intermediary species.  

At a briefing in Beijing, a foreign ministry spokesman confirmed the WHO team was on its way to China and said China had invited the investigation “to contribute to a more effective global epidemic response and global public health cooperation.”

The WHO mission comes just days after the United States formally withdrew its support from the organization after claiming the agency mishandled the outbreak and showed deference to China.

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