However, the investigating team may not visit Wuhan, where the virus was first detected back in 2019. China’s government strictly controlled domestic research into the origins of the virus, while state-owned media pushed theories that the virus originated elsewhere, according to the Associated Press.
Efforts to closely guard information surrounding the virus and its origins may have led to delayed warnings about the pandemic and difficulties establishing early testing capabilities.
“It’s very important that as the WHO is in the lead in fighting the pandemic, that it also has a leading role in trying to look back at the roots of this pandemic so we can be better prepared for the next one,” U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said.
“We very much hope” that China’s reported comments that it is working with the WHO and looking for a smooth visit “will happen.”
The virus’ origins have been the source of intense speculation, much of it centered around the likelihood that it was carried by bats and passed to humans through an intermediary species sold as food or medicine in traditional Chinese wet markets.
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said China approved the visit after a prolonged discussion, but WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus had recently expressed disappointment with the delays.
“Along with continuous changes in the epidemic situation, our knowledge of the virus deepens, and more early cases are discovered,” Zhao told reporters at a daily briefing, adding that the search for the origin will likely involve “multiple countries and localities.”
China has largely stemmed new cases of domestic transmission but said Monday that scores of people have tested positive for the coronavirus in Hebei province, bordering Beijing.
That outbreak comes amid measures to curb the further spread of the virus during next month’s Lunar New Year holiday. Authorities have called on citizens not to travel, ordered schools to close a week early and conducted testing on a massive scale.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.