EXPLAINER: What the WHO coronavirus experts learned in Wuhan

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Peter Ben Embarek and Thea Fischer of the World Health Organization team prepares to board a plane from the tarmac at the airport to leave at the end of the WHO mission in Wuhan, China, Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

WUHAN – A World Health Organization team has left China after gaining some new insights into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 2.3 million people — but with the major questions still unanswered.

The visit was politically sensitive for China — which is concerned about any allegations it didn't handle the initial outbreak properly — and has been closely watched around the world.

Team member Peter Daszak sounded upbeat on arriving at the airport Wednesday at the end of the four-week trip to the central Chinese city of Wuhan, where the first COVID-19 cases were detected in December 2019.

“We have clear leads on what the next steps should be," he said. "We know a lot more after the work that's been done.”

The team's major conclusions seemed to confirm what most researchers had already surmised about the virus. The visit was never expected to definitively pinpoint the origin of the pandemic — an undertaking that, based on others, could take years.

Here's a look at the theories the team explored during their visit:


The mission to Wuhan did not change a major theory about where the virus came from. Scientists think bats are the most likely carriers, and that they passed it on to another animal, which passed it on to humans. While there are other possibilities — a bat could have infected a human directly, for instance — the path through a second animal remains the most likely scenario, according to the WHO team and its Chinese counterparts. The question is what animal and where.