China welcomes WHO to investigate COVID-19

The World Health Organization (WHO) says China has welcomed a team of investigators into the origins of the coronavirus, expected to arrive there early next year.

A WHO official said Thursday that the organisation was in talks with Beijing.

It's been nearly a year since China reported the first cases of pneumonia from an unknown cause in Wuhan to the WHO and closed a market where the novel coronavirus is believed to have emerged.

The United States has accused China of hiding the outbreak's extent, and has demanded a "transparent" investigation.

It's also criticized the WHO for allowing Chinese scientists to do the first phase of preliminary research into the virus.

When the January mission launches, it will include 12 to 15 international experts, from several countries including Russia, Australia and Japan.

The WHO says the team will examine evidence, including human and animal samples collected by Chinese researchers.

But the investigation may be a difficult one, Keith Hamilton, a WHO expert specialising in animal health told reporters Tuesday that doing animal surveillance would be a bit like trying to find a needle in a haystack.

Another WHO expert added that the mission would like to interview market workers about how they were infected with the virus.

Meanwhile, Chinese state media have suggested the virus existed abroad before it was discovered in Wuhan, as authorities there have found the virus on frozen food packaging from overseas and have cited scientific reports that it had been circulating in Europe last year.