KOMPAS.com – A team from the World Health Organization (WHO) is scheduled to arrive in China Thursday to investigate the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic.
It was not immediately clear whether the team would be traveling to the central Chinese city of Wuhan where coronavirus was first detected in late 2019.
Negotiations for the visit have long been underway.
WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus last week expressed disappointment over the mission being delayed.
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He said members of the international scientific team had already started their journey from their home countries to China as part of an arrangement between the WHO and Beijing when China informed the organization it was not ready for their arrival.
China’s Government has strictly controlled all research at home into the origins of the virus, while state-owned media have played up fringe theories that suggest the virus could have originated elsewhere.
The culture of secrecy is believed to have delayed warnings about the pandemic, blocked the sharing of information with the WHO and hampered early testing.
Some countries have called for an investigation into the origins of the virus, prompting angry responses from Beijing.
After Tedros’ statement, China’s Foreign Ministry said the country was open to a visit by WHO experts, but it was still working on “necessary procedures and relevant concrete plans.”
China’s disease experts were busy with multiple small-scale virus clusters and outbreaks that had been reported in the past couple of weeks, ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said.
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“Our experts are wholeheartedly in the stressful battle to control the epidemic,” Hua said.
There was no immediate comment from the WHO on Monday’s announcement, but UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric had earlier told reporters at UN headquarters in New York that secretary-general Antonio Guterres was “fully supportive of Tedros” and WHO’s efforts to get a team in there.”
“It’s very important that as the WHO is in the lead in fighting the pandemic, that it also has a leading role in trying to look back at the roots of this pandemic so we can be better prepared for the next one,” Dujarric said.
“We very much hope that China’s reported comments that it is working with the WHO and looking for a smooth visit will happen.”
New Hebei outbreak
The virus’ origins have been the source of intense speculation, much of it cantered around the likelihood that it was carried by bats and passed to humans through an intermediary species sold as food or medicine in traditional Chinese wet markets.
China has largely stemmed new cases of domestic transmission, but said Monday scores of people had tested positive for coronavirus in Hebei province, bordering Beijing.
That outbreak comes amid measures to curb the further spread of the virus during next month’s Lunar New Year holiday.
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Authorities have called on citizens not to travel, ordered schools closed a week early and conducted testing on a massive scale.
China has recorded 87,536 total cases of the virus, including 4,634 deaths.
Hospitals are currently treating 673 people for Covid-19, while 506 others are in isolation and under observation after testing positive without showing symptoms, officials said.
The Hebei outbreak has raised particular concern because of the province’s proximity to Beijing.
Parts of the province are under lockdown and interprovincial travel has been largely cut off, with those entering Beijing to work having to show proof of employment and a clean bill of health.
Beijing has also seen a handful of new cases, prompting authorities to lock down some suburban communities and require residents to show negative test results to access grocery stores and other public spaces.
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