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WHO team visits Wuhan Institute of Virology, meets bat researcher

WHO team visits Wuhan Institute of Virology, meets bat researcher
The World Health Organization team probing the origins of the coronavirus visited the Wuhan Institute of Virology on Wednesday. File Photo by Roman Pilipey/EPA-EFE

Feb. 3 (UPI) -- The World Health Organization team investigating the origins of the novel coronavirus visited the Wuhan Institute of Virology on Wednesday, a day after China called for similar investigations in countries like the United States.

The WHO team including Peter Daszak and Thea Fischer met with scientists at the Wuhan research lab and agreed to international scientific cooperation and exchange, Taiwan's Central News Agency reported. Chinese state media claimed the WHO team was "impressed" by the professionalism of the scientists at the Wuhan Institute.

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The international team did not disclose their findings after their visit, but the lab has been at the center of speculation about the origins of the novel coronavirus.

China has claimed the first COVID-19 outbreak occurred at a wet market in Wuhan and rejected theories about the lab's role in the epidemic. But the virology institute was known for conducting studies of deadly diseases.

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Daszak, president of EcoHealth Alliance in New York, tweeted he had met with key figures at the lab, including Shi Zhengli, the Chinese scientist nicknamed "Bat Woman" for her research into bat coronaviruses. Shi has denied SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, leaked from the lab.

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As the WHO team continues its two-week investigation into the origins of the coronavirus, which has killed more than 2 million people globally, China claimed it has "maintained close communication and cooperation with WHO on global origin-tracing in an open and transparent manner."

Beijing's foreign ministry spokesman has continued to deny COVID-19 originated solely from China.

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"According to a U.S. CDC report, COVID-19 antibodies were detected in blood donations collected in December 2019, which means that the virus may have already been spreading in the United States by then, earlier than January 21," Wang Wenbin said Tuesday at a regular press briefing.

"More and more clues, reports and studies have indicated that the infections broke out in multiple places in the world in the latter half of the year 2019."

Analysts are divided about the theory the virus first leaked from the lab in Wuhan.

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