A World Health Organization (WHO) team has arrived in the Chinese city of Wuhan to start its investigation into the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The long-awaited probe comes after months of negotiations between WHO and Beijing.
A group of 10 international scientists intends to interview people from research institutes, hospitals and the seafood market linked to the initial outbreak of Covid-19, which was first detected in Wuhan in late 2019.
The team’s arrival on Thursday morning coincides with a resurgence of new coronavirus cases in northern China, while life in Wuhan is back to relative normality.
They will undergo two weeks of quarantine before beginning their research, which will of necessity rely upon samples and evidence provided by Chinese officials.
The investigation, which aims to investigate questions over the disputed animal origin of the pandemic, finally looks set to begin after some initial hiccups.
Earlier this month WHO said its investigators were denied entry into China after one member of the team was turned back and another got stuck in transit. But Beijing said it was a misunderstanding and that arrangements for the investigation were still under discussion at that stage.
Professor Dale Fisher, chair of the global outbreak and response unit at WHO, told the BBC that he hopes the world will consider this a scientific visit. “It’s not about politics or blame but getting to the bottom of a scientific question,” he said.
He added that most scientists believe that the virus was a “natural event”.
On Thursday China reported its first death from Covid-19 in eight months.
The country has largely brought the virus under control through quick mass testing, stringent lockdowns and tight travel restrictions, but new cases have been surfacing in recent weeks, mainly in northern Hebei province surrounding Beijing and Heilongjiang province in the northeast.