Coronavirus China/US

WHO chief 'disappointed' China hasn't granted entry to its team of experts

WHO chief Tedros aid nearly a billion doses of vaccines had been secured for the Covax programme.
WHO chief Tedros aid nearly a billion doses of vaccines had been secured for the Covax programme.PHOTO: REUTERS

ZURICH • The head of the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said that he was very disappointed that China has still not authorised the entry of a team of international experts to examine the origins of the coronavirus.

The 10-strong team had been due to set off early this month as part of a long-awaited mission to probe early cases of the coronavirus, first reported more than a year ago in China's Wuhan.

"Today, we learnt that Chinese officials have not yet finalised the necessary permissions for the team's arrival in China," WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told an online news conference in Geneva on Tuesday.

"I have been in contact with senior Chinese officials and I have once again made it clear the mission is a priority for the WHO," he said of the trip, which he added was developed with Beijing.

The mission was due to be led by Dr Peter Ben Embarek, WHO's top expert on animal diseases that cross the species barrier, who went to China on a preliminary mission in July last year.

Two members of the international team had already set out on their journey to China. One has now turned back and the other is in transit in a third country, said emergencies chief Mike Ryan.

However, he added: "We trust and hope that is just a logistic and bureaucratic issue that can be resolved very quickly."

Ahead of the trip, Beijing has been seeking to shape the narrative about when and where the pandemic began, with senior diplomat Wang Yi saying that "more and more studies" showed it emerged in multiple regions.

Mr Ryan has previously called this highly speculative.

China has dismissed criticism of its handling of early cases that emerged in late 2019, although some, including United States President Donald Trump, have questioned Beijing's actions during the outbreak.

Washington has called for a transparent investigation, and criticised the terms under which Chinese experts conducted the first phase of research.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 07, 2021, with the headline 'WHO chief 'disappointed' China hasn't granted entry to its team of experts'. Subscribe