China ready to receive WHO experts to probe COVID-19 origin but still silent on timeline
Beijing: China is ready to receive a WHO expert team to probe the origin of COVID-19 and has reached a consensus with the UN’s top health agency, a senior Chinese official said on Saturday, but gave no specific timeline for the visit.
The exact time on when the WHO expert team will arrive in Wuhan, where the virus emerged in December last, and investigate into the coronavirus origin is still under negotiation, Zeng Yixin, deputy head of the National Health Commission, told a press conference.
China and the World Health Organisation have reached a consensus on specific arrangements of the investigation with four video conferences, Zeng was quoted as saying by state-run Global Times.
Chinese experts are waiting for their WHO counterparts, he said.
Once the WHO experts complete their procedures and finalise the schedule, Chinese experts will go to Wuhan with them to conduct the investigation, Zeng was quoted as saying by the state-run Xinhua news agency.
Zeng stressed that China’s position on the WHO investigation is positive, open and supportive, and the country hopes such joint efforts would help deepen the understanding of the virus and better prevent infectious diseases in the future.
In a rare instance of criticism from the global body, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who is often accused of being pro-China, in a media conference in Geneva on Tuesday had expressed disappointment over China not finalising the necessary permissions for the experts team’s arrival.
“I’m very disappointed with this news, given that two members had already begun their journeys and others were not able to travel at the last minute, but had been in contact with senior Chinese officials,” he said.
Tedros said he “made it clear” that the mission was a priority for the UN health agency and it was “eager to get the mission underway as soon as possible”.
The delay by China to finalise the WHO team’s arrival is fuelling concern that Beijing is obstructing global efforts to trace the origins of COVID-19.
Reacting to Tedros comments, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying had said “there might be some misunderstand on this”.
“We can understand Dr Tedros and the WHO” she had said, adding that the two sides are “in discussions” to finalise the dates.
“We hope the details can be determined as soon as possible. Hope the WHO can understand this. We always have smooth communication channels. There might be some misunderstanding on this. But there is no need to read too much into this. We have smooth communication and pleasant cooperation. I believe it will continue,” Hua said on Wednesday.
China has been proactively questioning the widely-held view that the deadly outbreak broke out in a wet market in Wuhan where live animals, birds and reptiles are sold and spread to humans. The market remained closed and sealed since early last year.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said in a recent interview to official media that China “raced against time” and was the first country to report coronavirus cases to the world.
More and more research suggests that the pandemic was likely to have been caused by separate outbreaks in multiple places in the world”.
In May last year, the World Health Assembly (WHA) — the governing body of the 194-member states of the WHO — approved a resolution to set up an independent inquiry to conduct an “impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation” of the international response as well as that of the WHO.
It also asked the WHO to investigate the “source of the virus and the route of introduction to the human population”.