- Two members of the international WHO team supposed to investigate the origins of the novel coronavirus were denied entry to China.
- WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he was “very disappointed” that China had not finalized permissions for the team’s arrival.
- Chinese officials explained that the country is still working with WHO officials and negotiating dates and arrangements for the investigation.
After negotiating terms of the joint WHO-China investigation into the novel coronavirus pandemic’s origin, World Health Organization officials confirmed in mid-December that the investigation would start in early January 2021. That’s more than a year later after the first COVID-19 cases were detected in the city of Wuhan. China has been widely criticized for delaying the investigation and being less transparent about COVID-19 matters, including the illness’s origin, than the nation claims it’s been. But Beijing propaganda has pushed all sorts of theories that propose alternative origin stories. The latest one said the virus might have been detected on auto parts packaging, suggesting imported goods could traffic the virus. China’s own CDC shot down the theory earlier this week after it spread on social media.
The investigation seems imminent now that the two parties have agreed on terms, but things aren’t going as smoothly as expected. China has just denied entry to two members of the official team who were already en route.
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WHO said the problem was a lack of visa clearances, BBC News reports. But China has challenged the account, saying that the details of the visit were still being arranged, dates included.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters on Tuesday that he was “very disappointed” that China has not finalized permissions “given that two members had already begun their journeys and others were not able to travel at the last minute.”
“I have been assured that China is speeding up the internal procedure for the earliest possible deployment,” the top WHO official said, adding that he had been in contact with senior Chinese officials to stress that “the mission is a priority for WHO and the international team.”
Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying told BBC “there might be some misunderstanding” and “there’s no need to read too much into it.”
“Chinese authorities are in close co-operation with WHO, but there has been some minor outbreaks in multiple places around the world, and many countries and regions are busy in their work preventing the virus, and we are also working on this,” she said. “Still, we are supporting international co-operation and advancing internal preparations. We are in communication with the WHO, and as far as I know with dates and arrangements, we are still in discussions.”
The two parties have been negotiating for months over the investigation.
One member of the WHO team had to return home, and one was in transit in a different country. That’s what Dr. Michael Ryan, WHO health emergencies program executive director, told reporters, per CNN.
He said he hoped it was “just a logistical and bureaucratic issue” that can be resolved in “good faith in the coming hours and recommence the deployment of the team as soon as possible.”
A 10-person team of experts is expected to investigate the COVID-19 origin in China, although it’s unclear when the investigation would begin. A previous report said the team will have 12 to 15 members.