A team of World Health Organization (WHO) investigators is preparing to leave quarantine in the Chinese city of Wuhan and begin a long-awaited investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.
Members of the 13-person international team will finish their two-week quarantine in the next 24 hours, stepping out into a city that was once the center of the global outbreak but is now, a year on, largely returned to normal. Scrutiny of the team's work will be immense, as they navigate what is likely to be a political minefield in uncovering how the virus that brought much of the world to a halt first emerged.
"The eyes of the world are focused on this, the opinions of the world are focused on this," Dutch virologist and team member Marion Koopmans told CNN Wednesday morning, as she prepared for a final round of meetings before leaving her quarantine hotel.
"We are aware of it, there is no way around that. That's why we really try to keep focused, we are scientists, we are not politicians, we are trying to really look at this from the scientific perspective."
Part of that involves abandoning all preconceived notions about how the virus evolved and spread, to look at what the evidence says, and go from there, Koopmans said. The team has spent the past two weeks in video calls with each other and Chinese scientists, "discussing what we know, what we don't know."
Demand for answers will be great, especially after the investigation itself was delayed several times, but Koopmans cautioned patience.
"I think we really have to manage expectations, if you look at some of the earlier quests for the origins of outbreaks, they have taken years to complete," she said. "The early and relatively easy studies have been done, have already been published."
An earlier report by a WHO team in China, published in February 2020, found that "key knowledge gaps remain" about the virus, though it endorsed previous findings that the virus appeared to have originated in animals, with the likely first outbreak at a seafood market in Wuhan.
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