China has denied a team of World Health Organization experts who last-minute investigated the origins of Covid-19’s entry into the country.
The WHO chief said Tuesday that he was “very disappointed” that China has still not approved the entry of a team of international experts to investigate the origins of the coronavirus.
The 10-person team was due to set out in early January as part of a long-awaited mission to investigate early cases of the coronavirus, which were first reported in Wuhan, China over a year ago.
WHO has been trying to send a team of global experts from a number of countries for months, and scientists say it’s important to find out how the virus jumped species into humans.
The mission is not believed to intend to investigate claims that the virus originated in a Chinese laboratory that many scientists have dismissed.
“Today we learned that Chinese officials have not yet completed the necessary permits for the team to arrive in China,” said WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at an online press conference in Geneva.
“I contacted high-ranking Chinese officials and again made it clear that the mission is a priority for WHO,” he said of the trip he made to Beijing.
The mission was to be led by Peter Ben Embarek, WHO’s leading expert on animal diseases exceeding species limits, who traveled to China on a preliminary mission last July.
Two members of the international team had already made their way to China. One has now returned and the other is traveling in a third country, said emergency chief Mike Ryan.
However, he added: “We trust and hope that this is just a logistical and bureaucratic problem that can be resolved very quickly.”
Before the trip, Beijing tried to frame the narrative about when and where the pandemic started. Senior diplomat Wang Yi said “more and more studies” show it has occurred in multiple regions.
Ryan previously described this as “highly speculative”.
China has dismissed criticism of the handling of early cases that emerged in late 2019, although some, including President Donald Trump, have questioned Beijing’s actions during the outbreak.
Washington, which has announced plans to leave the WHO, has called for a “transparent” investigation and criticized the conditions under which Chinese experts conducted the first phase of research.
China surpassed Covid after spiking last January and the people of Wuhan packed nightclubs and streets to celebrate the New Year last week.
But Covid is still being ravaged worldwide, including the UK, and is now plunging into a third national lockdown with cases fueled by a new variant.