MIKE RYAN: "...right now, this is our best chance and it may be our last chance to understand the origins of this virus..."
The World Health Organization announced the creation of a newly formed group Wednesday that it called its last chance to determine the origins of COVID-19 and urged China to cooperate.
The question of where and how the coronavirus came to be has become a highly volatile issue and a particularly touchy topic for China, where the first cases emerged in late 2019.
Mike Ryan, WHO's Head of Emergencies Programme, urged calm amid a renewed bid for answers.
"That is a human endeavour to understand a virus that has stopped our whole world. And I would ask everyone, countries, journalists and everybody else, to create a little space for that discussion to happen."
A WHO-led team spent four weeks in and around Wuhan, China earlier this year with Chinese scientists probing the earliest known cases of the coronavirus, and said in a joint report in March that the virus had probably been transmitted from bats to humans through another animal but further research was needed.
WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that the investigation was hampered by a lack of raw data and has called for lab audits.
China has repeatedly dismissed theories that the virus leaked from one of its laboratories and has said no more visits are needed, but the WHO believes otherwise.
MARIA VAN KERKHOVE: "And I very much hope, we very much hope that there will be further mission to China and other countries."
In an editorial in the journal Science, the WHO said that detailed investigations of the earliest known and suspected cases in China prior to December 2019 were still needed, including analyses of stored blood samples from 2019 in Wuhan.
Chen Xu, China's ambassador to the UN noted that international teams had been sent to China twice already and that "it is time to send teams to other places."