China has tried to downplay concerns about its refusal to authorize a fact-finding mission to the country by the World Health Organization to study the origins of Covid-19, saying it is still negotiating access with the UN body.
A day after WHO chief Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he was “very disappointed” that China had not authorized the entry of the 10-person research team, led by Dr. Peter Ben Embarek, China insisted that there had been a “misunderstanding” between the two sides about the agreed dates for the visit, adding that discussions were ongoing.
Tedros said Tuesday that members of the international scientific team had started leaving their home countries in the past 24 hours as part of an agreement between the WHO and China, but had discovered that Chinese officials had not yet finalized the permits. necessary.
“I am very disappointed with this news, as two members had already started their travels and others were unable to travel at the last minute, but had been in contact with senior Chinese officials,” he told a news conference in Geneva.
China’s apparent obstruction of the mission, which the WHO describes as a priority, comes amid the country’s attempts to reshape the narrative of where the disease originated, despite the global scientific consensus that Covid-19 jumped by. first time from animals to humans in China.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a regular press conference in Beijing that the problem “was not just about visas” for the team.
When asked about reports that dates had been agreed, he said there had been a “misunderstanding” and that the two sides were still in talks about the schedule and other arrangements.
“The problem of origins is very complex. To ensure that the work of the global expert group in China is successful, we need to carry out the necessary procedures and relevant concrete plans. Currently, both parties are still in negotiations on this, ”Hua said.
“I understand that it is not just a visa problem and the actual date and itinerary. The two parties are still in close communication. “
The new coronavirus was first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019 and has since spread around the world.
Much is still unknown about its origins and China has been sensitive to any suggestion that it could have done more in the early stages of the pandemic to stop it.
The question of the origins of the virus, and attempts to investigate them, became highly politicized, notably by the Trump administration and its allies, who have questioned China’s lack of transparency at the beginning of the outbreak and promoted unfounded theories about how it came about. the virus. It could have escaped from a Chinese laboratory.
For its part, China has also promoted disinformation about the virus, as it has tried to cloud the picture about when and where the pandemic started, with diplomat Wang Yi saying that “more and more studies” showed that it emerged in multiple regions. WHO emergency chief Michael Ryan has previously called this “highly speculative.”
China has also dismissed criticism for its handling of the first cases, although the WHO trip was seen as an important way to cut the grudge and seek clear answers about the origins of the virus.
“We were all operating with the understanding that the team would begin deployment today,” Ryan said Tuesday.
Scientists initially believed that the virus jumped to humans at a market that sold exotic animals for meat in the city of Wuhan.
But some experts now think that the market may not have been the source of the outbreak, but rather a place where it was amplified.
The virus is assumed to originate from bats, but the intermediate animal host that transmitted it between bats and humans is unknown.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism