Scientists think the novel coronavirus likely jumped from a wild animal, such as a bat, via an intermediary species, possibly the anteater-like pangolin. However, China says a full investigation may have to wait until the pandemic is under control.

Medical workers treat patients in the ICU at a hospital in Wuhan in central China's Hubei province on February 6, 2020.
Medical workers treat patients in the ICU at a hospital in Wuhan in central China's Hubei province on February 6, 2020. (Chinatopix via AP)

China and the World Health Organization have begun discussing plans to trace the origin of the coronavirus outbreak following a visit to the country by two experts from the UN agency.

A spokesperson for the WHO, Christian Lindmeier, told reporters on Tuesday that "the team had extensive discussions with Chinese counterparts and received updates on epidemiological studies, biologic and genetic analysis and animal health research". 

She says these included video discussions with Wuhan virologists and scientists.

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China's foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin also told reporters the experts conducted “preparatory consultations on scientific research cooperation on virus tracing” during their two-week stay, which ended on Sunday.

Their talks touched on research in the areas of population, environment, molecules, animal traceability and transmission routes of the coronavirus, as well as plans for further scientific research, Wang said.

During their visit, the pair held extensive discussions and exchanges with scientists in Wuhan, where the outbreak was first detected.

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Wuhan's wildlife market

China shut down a wildlife market in Wuhan at the start of the outbreak, a day after discovering some patients were vendors or dealers.

The WHO says the virus most likely came from bats and probably had another, intermediary animal "host".

The results of the WHO investigation are keenly awaited by scientists and governments around the world, none more so than Washington, which lobbied hard for the mission.

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Full investigation

The three-week advance mission comprising two specialists in animal health and epidemiology was tasked with laying the groundwork for a broader team of Chinese and international experts that will seek to discover how the virus that causes Covid-19 jumped the species barrier from animals to humans.

Scientists think it likely jumped from a wild animal, such as a bat, via an intermediary species, possibly the anteater-like pangolin.

However, China says a full investigation may have to wait until the pandemic is under control and has rejected accusations that it delayed releasing information to WHO at the start of the outbreak.

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Source: TRTWorld and agencies