The World Health Organization has expressed disappointment after China denied entry to an international team of experts studying the origins of the novel coronavirus despite months of tense negotiations and delays over the visit, with the WHO citing visa issues while China insists the specifics of the visit are still being hashed out.
WHO head Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he was “very disappointed” that China had still not “finalized the necessary permissions for the team’s arrival in China” according to the “jointly developed” arrangements between the organization, the Chinese government and other countries the team was expected to travel through on its way to China.
Tedros said he had been in contact with senior officials to emphasize “that the mission is a priority for WHO,” adding that he had been assured that “China is speeding up the internal procedure for the earliest possible deployment.”
A spokesperson for China’s foreign ministry contested the WHO’s account, telling reporters Wednesday that it is “not just a visa issue.”
“The issue of origin-tracing is incredibly complicated,” the spokesperson said, claiming that discussions were ongoing for “the specific date and specific arrangement of the expert group’s visit.”
They said China was “placing great importance and is actively communicating with the WHO.”
The ten-strong team includes experts from Japan, Qatar, Germany, Vietnam, Russia, Australia, Denmark, the Netherlands, the U.K. and the U.S..
The origins of Covid-19 are still largely a mystery, with the virus believed to have crossed over from animals into humans in the later months of 2019. This is believed to have happened in China, and the first identified case was from a novel coronavirus that had been circulating in the city of Wuhan, in China. The first outbreak is linked to a market there, which researchers have been trying to access in order to better understand the virus’ origins. Some, including U.S. President Donald Trump, are calling for China to pay reparations for its apparent role in the virus’ emergence — something the World Health Organization has been grappling with as it tries to get boots on the ground. In recent months, China has been making a concerted effort to relocate the virus’ birthplace outside of its borders, including engaging in a blame-shifting propaganda campaign, trying to relocate the virus’ origin outside of China.
Last July, as the spread of coronavirus began to ramp up in the U.S.,Trump formally withdrew the U.S. from the WHO, accusing the health body of being “China-centric” and not acting fast enough.