World Health Organization (W.H.O.) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Tuesday he was “very disappointed” in China’s refusal to grant access for a ten-member team of experts to investigate the origins of the Wuhan coronavirus, even though China previously agreed to the mission and several of the members are already in transit.
“Today, we learned that Chinese officials have not yet finalized the necessary permissions for the team’s arrival in China. 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, but had been in contact with senior Chinese officials,” Tedros said at a press conference in Geneva.
Tedros softened his criticism by adding that he was given assurances “China is speeding up the internal procedures for the earliest possible deployment,” even though they did exactly the opposite of that.
According to the executive director of W.H.O.’s Health Emergencies Program, Dr. Michael Ryan, Tedros took “immediate action” to impress upon Chinese officials “the absolute critical nature” of the investigation.
It seems odd that these desperate last-minute contacts with Chinese officials would be necessary, since China agreed to the inspection long ago, after months of heated negotiations and huge international pressure, and the W.H.O. mission to Wuhan was announced with a great deal of international media fanfare a month ago.
“The team will visit Wuhan, that’s the purpose of the mission. The point of the mission is to go to the original point at which human cases were detected. They’ll fully expect to do that,” Dr. Ryan said at a news conference on December 18.
W.H.O. experts gaining full access to scientific facilities in Wuhan was touted in July in response to President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the organization. The Chinese government was very ostentatious about its willingness to cooperate with W.H.O. and hide nothing from its investigators, even as it quietly undermined W.H.O. missions by denying access to the very laboratories the Chinese coronavirus might have emerged from.
According to W.H.O., one of the investigators in transit returned home after the news broke, while the other is currently waiting in an unspecified third country.
The Chinese government insisted the details of their visit are still being negotiated, implying W.H.O. acted rashly by dispatching its personnel.
“Chinese authorities are in close co-operation with W.H.O., but there have been some minor outbreaks in multiple places around the world, and many countries and regions are busy in their work preventing the virus, and we are also working on this. Still we are supporting international co-operation and advancing internal preparations. We are in communication with the W.H.O. and as far as I know with dates and arrangements we are still in discussions,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told the BBC.
“The origins problem is very complex. To ensure that the work of the global experts group in China is successful, we need to carry out the necessary procedures and relevant concrete plans. Currently both sides are still in negotiations on this. I understand that it’s not just a visa problem and the actual date and itinerary. Both sides are still in close communication,” Hua said at a press conference on Wednesday.
As the WHO team prepared to embark, Chinese officials and state media have questioned the virus’ origins, saying “more and more research suggests that the pandemic was likely to have been caused by separate outbreaks in multiple places in the world,” according to Wang.
On Monday, reports circulated on Chinese social media that the virus had been detected on auto part packaging in multiple cities, including from foreign brands.
For months, China has been testing and disinfecting frozen products imported from overseas, over fears the virus could reenter the country that way, even as experts remain skeptical about this as a potential source of infection.
Both W.H.O. and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) say it is highly unlikely the Chinese coronavirus could be contracted from food packaging, and there is no evidence of any transmission occurring that way. Several exporter nations have threatened to pursue World Trade Organization action against China for restricting imports of their products to perpetuate its frozen-food theory.
The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) on Wednesday detected “tension building” between the Chinese government and W.H.O., as epidemiologists around the world maintain a thorough international investigation of the virus that crippled the entire planet is vitally important to combat the current and future pandemics, while the CCP does everything it can to keep investigators away from the Wuhan virus laboratories.
The WSJ noted that China blocked W.H.O. staff from visiting the notorious Wuhan wet market in February, declared trade and diplomatic war against Australia for spearheading a resolution to demand a full investigation of the Chinese coronavirus’s origins, and has consistently thwarted W.H.O.’s efforts to obtain full information about the virus.
“The W.H.O. rarely criticizes the national governments that fund its budget and elect its leaders. For its top official to call out China shows how the agency has struggled to get Beijing’s cooperation on important issues,” the WSJ observed, quoting Georgetown University researcher Alexandra Phelan’s interpretation of the spat between Tedros and Beijing as a sign the “lines of communication have broken down. “
“This is the Chinese government wanting to perpetrate the argument that the virus started elsewhere. They are very clearly on a mission to try and avert attention away from China being the source of the virus,” University of Sydney global health security scholar Adam Kamradt-Scott said bluntly.