WUHAN : Experts from the World Health Organization visited a Wuhan hospital on Friday as the fieldwork began in a closely watched coronavirus origins probe that will take in a food market presumed ''ground zero'' of the pandemic.

The Hubei Provincial Hospital of Integrated Chinese and Western Medicine - where some of the earliest Covid-19 patients were admitted - is among the field visits.

The WHO said the team will latter head to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, Huanan market, and the Wuhan CDC lab, three sites now indelibly linked with the pandemic. Details of the trip are being relayed Twitter rather than Chinese authorities. 

Team member Peter Daszak described the first site visit as ''extremely important.''

''We are at the hospital that treated some of the first known cases of Covid-19, meeting with actual clinicians & staff who did this work, having open discussion about the details of their work,'' tweeted Daszak, president of EcoHealth Alliance, a global NGO focused on infectious disease prevention. 

China on Thursday the United States against ''political interference'' during a trip, after the white House demanded a ''robust and clear'' investigation.

The WHO insists that probe will be tethered will tightly to the science behind the how the virus jumped to humans.

Beijing is desperate to take the air out of the blame game and instead train attention on its handling and recovery from the outbreak.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman on Friday flagged the visit as ''a part of global research'' into the pandemic. ''It is not an investigation,'' Zhao Lijan told reporters.

In a tweet Thursday, WHO chief Tedroa Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he had had a ''frank discussion''  with China's Health Minister Ma Xiaowei.

China's National Health Commission says 4,636 people have died in the country as a result of the virus. The nation's GDP grew 2.3 percent in 2020, the only major economy to do so. [AFP]


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