An international team of experts is to explore the origins of the coronavirus in China. But the country’s authorities are apparently delaying entry. The World Health Organization is unusually sharp criticism.
By Dietrich Karl Mäurer, ARD Studio Zurich
Does the coronavirus actually come from China? There, in a market in the metropolis of Wuhan, the pathogen was detected for the first time in December 2019. Researchers suspect that the virus spread from bats to humans. However, the Chinese state media repeatedly cast doubts on precisely this theory. They reported several times about infections in other countries before the virus was discovered in China.
A team of international scientists is now to explore the origins of Sars-CoV-2 on behalf of the World Health Organization (WHO). “Your work has already started. You have been working with Chinese experts and their colleagues via video chat to investigate all aspects of where this virus could be coming from,” said WHO spokeswoman Margret Harris on Chinese television. “We know that it is similar to the virus in bats, but was there any animal that could have been an intermediate host?”
Entry permits still not issued
The WHO had been negotiating the modalities of the research trip with Beijing for months. It wasn’t just about visa issues and quarantine rules, but each expert had to be individually approved by the Chinese side.
The mission should finally start at the beginning of January. Members of the international scientific team have already started the trip to China from their home countries, said WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at a press conference. This was done as agreed with China and the countries through which the team is to travel on its way to Wuhan.
But the authorities in Beijing have still not issued the necessary entry permits, the WHO chief said. Tedros, who is otherwise reluctant to openly criticize WHO member countries – especially China – became unusually clear: “I am very disappointed with this news, as two members had already started their trip and others could not come at the last minute” , he said.
Doubts about China’s willingness to enlighten
China immediately went into defense mode. Hua Chunying from the Beijing Foreign Ministry spoke of misunderstandings: “In order to ensure that the work of the scientists in China can be carried out smoothly, both sides remain in close communication about certain details such as the time of their arrival in China,” he said.
Beijing’s actions fuel doubts about the will of the Chinese to advance education about the origin of the pandemic. Tedros, on the other hand, never tires of emphasizing the importance of the experts’ journey: “I was in contact with high-ranking Chinese officials and once again made it clear that the mission is a priority for the WHO and the international team.” China then assured him that it would speed up the process.