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17 Dec, 2020 11:33

Coronavirus origins: WHO says Beijing ‘welcomes’ investigators’ trip to China

Coronavirus origins: WHO says Beijing ‘welcomes’ investigators’ trip to China

The Chinese authorities will welcome an international team of Covid-19 investigators who plan to travel to China in January, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said.

Its regional emergencies director in the Western Pacific, Dr. Babatunde Olowokure, told reporters on Thursday that the WHO and China are continuing to discuss which places the team might visit.

“Our understanding at this time is that China is welcoming the international team and their visit,” he said. “This is anticipated, as far as we are aware, to happen in early January.”

If allowed, up to 15 experts will go to China almost a year after Beijing first reported the outbreak of the novel coronavirus. The country had earlier opposed calls for an international inquiry into its origins. The itinerary is still being discussed, and it is not yet clear whether a WHO team will travel to Wuhan, the city where the virus was first detected.

In Beijing, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin said on Thursday that “China stands ready to enhance its cooperation with the WHO to advance the global tracing efforts,” but did not comment on the upcoming visit.

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The United States has accused China of hiding the initial extent of the outbreak, and noted the terms of the planned WHO investigation allowed Chinese scientists to do the first phase of preliminary research.

Dr. Olowokure confirmed on Thursday that the exact timing of the trip would depend on “obtaining the results of some other tests.”

The Chinese media has questioned whether the virus existed abroad before it was found in Wuhan, and there has been research into whether frozen food packaging could pose a risk. Dr. Michael Ryan, the director of the WHO’s health emergencies program, said last month it would be “highly speculative” to argue that the disease did not emerge in China.

More than 72.92 million people have reportedly been infected by the coronavirus globally and 1,641,733 have died.

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