GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – The World Health Organization (WHO) has announced that China blocked a team of health and disease experts investigating the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic from entering the country, reports say. Despite jointly-agreed upon arrangements having been made prior to the trip, Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus noted that Chinese government representatives informed him that the necessary permissions for the team to enter the country had not yet been approved. Two members of the team had already left from their respective countries when they received the news, Tedros said.
The team was set to travel to Wuhan, the city in China where COVID-19 was first identified in December 2019. WHO officials had been working with Beijing to allow a group of doctors and scientists access to their country in order to study how the virus may have first come to be and how it was possibly transmitted from an unknown animal type to human beings.
Tedros delivered the news of the WHO team’s delay – said to stem from an issue with visas – from entering China during a press conference held in Geneva, but noted that he had been told by Chinese officials that they were “speeding up the internal procedures for the earliest possible deployment.”
“I am 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. “I have been in contact with senior Chinese officials and I have once again made clear that the mission is a priority for WHO and the international team. We are eager to get the mission underway as soon as possible.”
China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Hua Chunying, held a press conference Wednesday, and stated that his country was working to remove any remaining roadblocks preventing the WHO’s visit, and pointed out that the UN organization had been allowed into the country previously.
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“In order to ensure that the international expert group that comes to China can work smoothly, it is needed to fulfill the necessary procedures and make relevant specific arrangements,” Hua said. “The two sides are still negotiating about this.”
To date, there have been over 88.2 million recorded cases of COVID-19 worldwide and over 1.9 million deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.