China yesterday said that a WHO team of experts would arrive this week to investigate the origins of COVID-19, after the country was criticized by the global health body and other nations for a lack of transparency around tracking the pathogen’s source.
The team of scientists would arrive on Thursday, China’s National Health Commission said.
The confirmation of a date comes after a rare rebuke by WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who last week expressed disappointment that China had not yet given final permission for the experts’ entry, even as some had already started traveling.
Tedros yesterday welcomed the announcement, writing on Twitter that: “We look forward to working closely with our (Chinese) counterparts on this critical mission to identify the virus source & its route of introduction to the human population.”
The WHO investigation would be conducted jointly with Chinese scientists, the commission said, without providing further details.
It is still unclear if the team would be allowed to visit Wuhan.
Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Zhao Lijian (趙立堅) told a daily press briefing in Beijing that “with increased understanding of the virus and the timeline of the first case being moved forward, origin tracing may involve more countries and regions.”
“The WHO will need to conduct similar studies in other countries and regions,” he said.
A health expert affiliated with the WHO said that expectations should be “very low” that the WHO team would reach a conclusion from their trip to China.
“I would be inclined to set the expectations of a conclusion very low for this visit,” Dale Fisher, chair of the Global Outbreak Alert & Response Network coordinated by the WHO, said in an interview at the Reuters Next conference.
“I think it’s an important meeting, but it shouldn’t be overrated in terms of an outcome this time,” said Fisher, who is a professor of medicine at the National University of Singapore and took part in a WHO mission to Wuhan last year.
The chances of finding the origin of the pandemic are much better than they were year ago, because experts now know a lot more about what data they will need, he said.
Additional reporting by Reuters
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