As a team from the World Health Organization (WHO) prepares to travel to China to investigate the origins of COVID-19, Beijing has stepped up efforts not only to prevent further outbreaks, but also to shape the story of when and where the pandemic happened.
China has dismissed criticism of its early handling of the coronavirus, first identified in the city of Wuhan at the end of 2019, and Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said on Monday that the country would host the WHO team to probe origins of coronaviruses in January.
However, amid simmering geopolitical tensions, experts said investigators would likely not be allowed to examine some of the epidemic’s more sensitive aspects, with Beijing desperate to avoid blame for a virus that has killed more than 1 , 8 million people in the world.
“Even before this investigation, senior officials on both sides were very polarized in their views on the origins of the epidemic,” said Yanzhong Huang, senior member of the Council on Foreign Relations, a US think tank.
“They will have to be politically savvy and draw conclusions acceptable to all the main parties,” he added.
China is also the only country to claim that COVID-19 can be transmitted via cold chain imports, with the country attributing the new outbreaks in Beijing and Dalian to contaminated shipments – even though the WHO has played down those risks.
China has been accused of a cover-up that delayed its initial response, allowing the virus to spread further.
The subject remains sensitive, with only a handful of studies on the origins of COVID-19 made available to the public. However, there have also been signs that China is willing to share information that contradicts the official image.
Last week, a study by the China Center for Disease Control showed blood samples from 4.43% of Wuhan’s population contained COVID-19 antibodies, indicating the city’s infection rates were much higher. higher than what was initially admitted.
But scientists said China must also share any findings suggesting COVID-19 was circulating in the country long before it was officially identified in December 2019.
An Italian study has shown COVID-19 could have been in Europe several months before China’s first official case. Chinese state media used the document to support theories that COVID-19 originated abroad and entered China via contaminated frozen food or foreign athletes participating in the World Military Games in Wuhan in October 2019 .