WHO team to arrive in China on January 14 to investigate origins of COVID-19

An international group of experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) will arrive in China on 14th January, to probe the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, ending the uncertainty and delay which drew sharp criticism from the world health body. The state news agency, quoting China’s National Health Commission said on Monday that an expert team from the WHO will conduct a field visit to China this coming Thursday. China’s National Health Commission said in a brief statement that the WHO team would work with Chinese scientists during the trip, without giving further details. There is no announcement as of now on the itinerary of the visiting team, nor is there any confirmation on the quarantine requirements. It has been more than a year since the first official case of the novel Coronavirus was announced in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.

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. China and the WHO have reached a consensus on specific arrangements of the investigation with four video conferences, Zeng 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 said. Chinese foreign ministry without giving any further details said that China always supported global cooperation on origin tracing of COVID-19.

The team’s visit to China, especially to Wuhan has become a bone of contention as Beijing, which questions the widely-held view about the virus’ origins in Wuhan, had delayed granting permission to the 10-member team of experts. The much-awaited confirmation came after WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who is often accused of being pro-China, in a rare rebuke, had expressed disappointment last week over Beijing not granting the necessary permissions for the expert team’s arrival. 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 Tedros’ comments, Chinese Foreign Ministry last week said that there might be some misunderstanding on this.

China has been trying to change the narrative that the deadly outbreak broke out in a wet market in Wuhan where live exotic wild species were sold, propagating many theories suggesting the origin of the virus in other countries. The market remained closed and sealed since early last year. 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.

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