The original team were also free to apply and six were appointed, including Professor Watson, Dr Marion Koopmans from the Netherlands, and Dr Hung Nguyen from Vietnam.
Applicants were asked to submit a CV and covering letter as well as any conflicts of interest, seen as a bid to head off critics who said Dr Peter Daszak, one of the original inquiry team members, was too close to the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
The team will begin their investigation with meetings behind closed doors both online and in WHO headquarters in Geneva but it is unlikely they will be given access to crucial data from China.
This lack of access stymied work of the original inquiry team – announced in November 2020 – which was led by the WHO’s Dr Peter Ben Embarek and included 10 other virus hunters, public health specialists and experts in animal health from the UK, United States, Australia, Denmark, the Netherlands, Japan, Qatar, Germany, Vietnam and Russia.
The group – established after WHO member states called for more research into how the pandemic began – spent a month in Wuhan in February 2021 and produced an inconclusive 123-page report alongside Chinese scientists.