'Very disappointed': China delays entry for WHO Covid investigators

One year on from the emergence of coronavirus in Wuhan, a reluctant China remains hypersensitive to investigations into Covid-19’s original source.

Prolonged negotiations for an investigation into the beginnings of a pandemic that has so far claimed 1.87 million lives have progressed at a snail’s pace as head of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Xi Jinping seeks to protect the damaged reputation of his nation.

On Tuesday (local time), the head of the World Health Organisation, Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said he was “very disappointed” China had still not authorised the entry of a team of international experts to examine the origins of the coronavirus.

“Today, we learned that Chinese officials have not yet finalised the necessary permissions for the team’s arrival in China,” Dr Tedros told an online news conference in Geneva.

WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus pictured.
WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has delivered a rare public criticism of China. Source: Getty Images

Members of the international team had set out on their journey to China in the past 24 hours and were due to start working on Tuesday.

“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,” Dr Tedros said.

The director-general said he had also been in contact with senior Chinese officials and reiterated his position on the investigation.

“I have once again made it clear the mission is a priority for the WHO,” he said.

The idea of an investigation has since day one been a sensitive concept for Beijing, who have at times tried to deflect blame for the virus’s global emergence amid allegations it tried to downplay and cover up the virus’s severity in its infancy.

Australia has felt the wrath of Beijing over the investigations after Prime Minister Scott Morrison took a vocal stance on such a probe, calling for answers just weeks after China regathered following a devastating outbreak in Wuhan which saw the city shut down in an unprecedented 76-day lockdown.

Triggering the CPC, Australia has since found itself on the receiving end of several trade sanctions, with Mr Morrison’s investigation calls seen as one of the main driving forces behind deteriorating relations between the two countries.

Pictured are a crowd of people wearing face masks while crossing the road.
China has refuted claims the coronavirus definitely originated from Wuhan. Source: Getty

China has denied trying to cover up its association with the pandemic that emerged in late 2019, although some including US President Donald Trump have questioned Beijing’s actions during the outbreak.

And while it is still up in the air where the virus originated, Chinese state media has peddled ideas the virus in fact came from outside of China.

German epidemiologist Alexander Kekule labelled such a move “pure propaganda”.

Mike Ryan, the WHO’s emergencies chief, said the Geneva-based agency had impressed on Chinese officials the critical nature of the mission.

“We trust and hope that is just a logistic and bureaucratic issue that can be resolved very quickly,” Dr Ryan said.

“We trust in good faith we can solve these issues in the coming hours.”

with Reuters, AAP

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