Chinese Authorities are preventing the arrival of the World Health Organization team who were sent to investigate the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, claiming that their visas have yet to be approved even as some members of the group were on their way.
“I am very disappointed with this news, as two members have already started their trip, and others were unable to travel at the last minute…But I have been in contact with senior Chinese officials. And I have once again made it clear that the mission is a priority for WHO and the international team,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus who expressed dismay and said he called on China to allow the team to enter.
WHO has been trying for several months to send the team of global experts from a number of countries. He has been talking with Chinese officials since July. Scientists have long said that finding out how the virus propelled species in humans is essential.
The shipment to China was heading to Wuhan to investigate the first cases. He did not intend to probe claims that the virus came from a Chinese lab, which were rejected by most scientists. The mission has been criticized by the United States, where outgoing President Donald Trump has flatly blamed the Chinese for the pandemic.
Garrett Grigsby, of the US Department of Health and Human Services, said in November that the investigation appeared “incompatible” with the WHO mandate. “Understanding the origins of Covid-19 through a transparent and inclusive investigation is what needs to be done to fulfill its mandate.”
WHO’s Dr Mike Ryan said the team had worked very closely with Chinese colleagues to plan the trip.
“We were all operating on the understanding that the team will begin deployment today [Tuesday], ” he said.
Two members of the team, who had a long distance to travel, had started their journey, he said, but it had become clear that their visas had not been approved by Chinese authorities.
“We didn’t want to put people in the air unnecessarily if there was no guarantee of their successful arrival in China,” Ryan said. “Dr. Tedros took immediate action and spoke to senior Chinese officials and made them fully understand the absolute criticality of this situation.”
The team hoped it was “just a logistical and bureaucratic problem that can be resolved very quickly.” One of the two colleagues on the way had left, while the other remained in a third country in transit.
“It’s frustrating and, as the GM said, disappointing. This disappointment has been expressed very clearly by Dr Tedros directly to our Chinese counterparts. We are confident that in good faith we will be able to resolve these issues in the coming hours and restart the team deployment as quickly as possible, ”said Ryan.
Ilona Kickbusch, founding director and president of the World Health Center in Geneva, said geopolitics had prevented countries from coming together to defeat the coronavirus pandemic and that the hostilities that had been generated could now make it impossible to find out how it had start.
“I think it will be incredibly difficult to find the origin of the virus, because so much time has passed,” Kickbusch said.
The world managed to unite to eradicate smallpox at the height of the Cold War, she said. Even when Sars, another coronavirus, surfaced in China and wreaked havoc between 2002 and 2003, the global reaction had been one of cooperation and pressure for more transparency.
At the time, Beijing admitted to making mistakes, reorganizing its health ministry and establishing the China Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Other countries have given him the benefit of the doubt and called for more cooperation.
“Sars led to China [understanding] that they needed to be much more integrated into the [global] system, ”Kickbusch said. “It was an opening period. But now she said, “There is a closing of the mind, very clearly, on all sides. ”
Before the crisis, geopolitical tensions had bled into the global health response, she said, noting how the US-China trade war had turned into a “geopolitical blame game.” As a result, “China has totally repressed [and] the United States did what it did ”and in the end“ the whole world suffered ”.