A World Health Organization team emerged from quarantine in the Chinese city of Wuhan on Thursday to start field work in a fact-finding mission on the origins of the virus that caused the COVID-19 pandemic. The researchers, who were required to isolate for 14 days after arriving in China, left their quarantine hotel with their luggage—including at least four yoga mats—in the midafternoon and headed to a lakeside Hilton resort-like hotel about 30 minutes away, per the AP. The mission has become politically charged, as China seeks to avoid blame for alleged missteps in its early response to the outbreak. A major question is where the Chinese side will allow the researchers to go and whom they'll be able to talk to. Among the places the team might visit are the Huanan seafood market, tied to many of the first cases, as well as research institutes and hospitals that treated patients at the height of the outbreak. It hasn't been disclosed whether the team will leave Wuhan.
One possible source of the virus is bats in caves in rural Yunnan province, about 1,000 miles southwest of Wuhan. Former WHO official Keiji Fukuda, who isn't part of the Wuhan team, has cautioned against expecting any breakthroughs, saying it may take years before any firm conclusions can be made about the virus' origin. While the WHO was criticized early on, especially by the US, for not being critical enough of the Chinese response, it recently accused China and other nations of moving too slowly at the start of the outbreak. In a rare move, China admitted it could have done better. The mission came about only after considerable wrangling between the two sides. Chinese officials and state media have also voiced doubt on whether the virus even started in China. The origins search will try to determine where and exactly how that happened.
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