WHO expert team to arrive in China this week to investigate COVID-19 origin

By Rahul Vaimal, Associate Editor
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China said that a group of experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) are due to arrive in the country on 14th January to probe the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, ending the uncertainty and delay which drew sharp criticism from the world health body.

Experts from the WHO will conduct a field visit to China on January 14, China’s National Health Commission said in a report.

The team’s visit to China, especially to Wuhan where the virus first emerged in December last year, has been largely controversial as China, which questions the widely-held view about the virus’ origins in Wuhan, had delayed granting permission to the 10-member team of experts.

On January 9, Zeng Yixin, the deputy head of the National Health Commission (NHC) told the media that the exact time of the team’s arrival in Wuhan was still under negotiations. WHO and China have reached a consensus on specific arrangements of the investigation with four video conferences, Mr. Zeng said. Once the WHO experts complete their procedures and finalize the schedule, Chinese experts will go to Wuhan with them to conduct the investigation, he added.

Severe criticism

The latest confirmation came after WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who is often accused of being pro-China, in a rare instance of criticism had expressed disappointment over Beijing not finalizing 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. Mr. Tedros said he made it clear that the mission was a priority for the UN health agency and it was eager to get it “underway as soon as possible”.
The delay by China to finalize the visit fueled concerns that Beijing was obstructing global efforts to trace the origins of COVID-19.

Reacting to Mr. Tedros comments, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying had said, “There might be some misunderstanding on this.”

The quest for the origin

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 recently said 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, he said.