TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — In a rare move, the World Health Organization (WHO) publicly expressed frustration toward China's refusal to allow a team of experts to enter Wuhan and investigate the origin of COVID-19.
“Today, we learned that Chinese officials have not yet finalized the necessary permissions for the team’s arrival in China,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus during a news conference in Geneva on Tuesday (Jan. 5). “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,” he stated.
The WHO head said he had been in close contact with Chinese officials, who assured him the country is “speeding up the internal procedures” to allow the UN agency’s team to start work. “We are eager to get the mission underway as soon as possible,” Tedro stressed.
The deployment of the expert team, comprised of international experts, was originally planned to begin on Tuesday. "We hope that this is just a logistical and bureaucratic issue that can be resolved very quickly,” said Michael Ryan, executive director of the WHO Health Emergencies Program.
The WHO sent a joint mission to China last February to investigate the coronavirus in several Chinese provinces, including Wuhan, where the first coronavirus cases were reported. It later praised China for its speedy response to bring the outbreak quickly under control.
However, leaked internal documents have shown that the Chinese authorities had hampered efforts to both contain the initial outbreak and alert the international community of the risks.
China has taken an aggressively defensive position against calls for investigating the origin of COVID-19 in the country. It even retaliated against Australia with import bans after Canberra expressed support for such a probe.
In addition, Chinese officials have more than once attempted to divert public opinion about Wuhan being the virus' place of origin. The most recent case occurred when Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in January claimed in an interview with state-run media that “more and more research suggests that the pandemic was likely to have been caused by separate outbreaks in multiple places in the world.”