A team of World Health Organization experts arrived in the Chinese city of Wuhan on Thursday to start an investigation into the origins of the coronavirus, state media CGTN reported.
The 10-member team was approved by President Xi Jinping's government after months of diplomatic wrangling that prompted an unusual public complaint by the WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Gheybreyesus.
The researchers were to stay in quarantine for two weeks in Wuhan, having undergone a throat swab test, and an antibody test for COVID-19. The Wall Street Journal reported that China denied entry to two members of the team after both tested positive, the WHO later said the scientists were in Singapore completing tests.
DW's Beijing Mathias Bölinger said the team of scientists said it is unlikely to come to a firm conclusion about the precise origin of the virus and that Chinese authorities were keen to control the narrative.
"This is a highly sensitive topic and all research by Chinese scientists is also strictly monitored and censored," said Bölinger.
He said the WHO team would speak to doctors and market workers and investigate pneumonia cases that arose before the first known cases of COVID-19.
China on the defensive
The novel coronavirus, which causes the COVID-19 disease, was first detected in Wuhan in late 2019.
It has since spread to almost every country on Earth, killing nearly 2 million people and infecting tens of millions while devastating the global economy.
Scientists suspect the virus jumped to humans from bats or other animals, most likely in China's southwest.
The Chinese government had been under international pressure over its handling of the initial outbreak. It has responded by saying the virus arrived in China from abroad, a claim rejected by scientists.
The WHO delegation's visit came on the same day that Chinese authorities reported the first fatality from COVID-19 in eight months. The death was reported in Hebei province where the government has placed several cities under lockdown.
China is currently seeing a surge in coronavirus cases in its northeast, including the region traditionally known as Manchuria.
adi,rc/sms (AP, Reuters, dpa, AFP)