Experts studying the origins of the coronavirus for the World Health Organization warned on Wednesday that the inquiry had “stalled” and that further delays could make it impossible to recover crucial evidence about the beginning of the pandemic.

“The window is rapidly closing on the biological feasibility of conducting the critical trace-back of people and animals inside and outside China,” the experts wrote in an editorial in the journal Nature. Several studies of blood samples and wildlife farms in China were urgently needed to understand how Covid-19 emerged, they said.

Amid a rancorous debate about whether a laboratory incident could have started the pandemic, the editorial amounted to a defense of the team’s work and an appeal for follow-up studies. A separate report by American intelligence agencies into the pandemic’s origins was delivered to President Biden on Tuesday, but did not offer any new answers about whether the virus emerged from a lab or in a natural spillover from animals to humans.

The international expert team, sent to Wuhan, China, in January as part of a joint inquiry by the World Health Organization and China, has faced criticism for publishing a report in March that said a leak of the coronavirus from a lab, while possible, was “extremely unlikely.”

not adequately assessed the possibility of a lab leak.

Virologists have leaned toward the theory that infected animals spread the virus to people. In the editorial published on Wednesday, the expert team reiterated calls to

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