China says WHO coronavirus experts to visit from Thursday

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Beijing (AFP)

Ten scientists from the World Health Organization will travel to China from Thursday to probe the origins of Covid-19, authorities said on Monday, more than a year after the start of the pandemic and amid accusations. Beijing tried to thwart the investigation.

The long-awaited mission is of great political importance at a time when the coronavirus pandemic has devastated the world, caused nearly two million deaths and has practically crippled the global economy.

The WHO team “will conduct joint research cooperation on the origins of Covid-19 with Chinese scientists,” the National Health Commission said in a statement without further details.

A last-minute delay to the mission earlier this month earned China a rare reprimand from the WHO chief.

General manager Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he was “very disappointed” that China did not allow the entry of the team – especially since two members were already on the way.

However, Beijing has sought to minimize the tension, with Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying calling it a “misunderstanding.”

WHO experts will have to quarantine themselves for two weeks upon arrival, but are later expected to travel to Wuhan – the city where the deadly virus was first detected in late 2019.

– Origins of the virus –

The United States and Australia have launched international calls for an independent investigation into the origins of the virus, putting China under significant pressure amid growing calls for accountability.

Beijing faced international criticism for its lack of transparency during the initial outbreak, although at a national level the government has praised its own handling of the outbreak and hushed up any criticism.

Government officials have repeatedly said that researching the origins of the pandemic is a “scientific question,” and even pushed theories about its origin outside of China.

Experts say solving the mystery of how it went from animals to humans is crucial to preventing another pandemic, but China’s tight control over its scientific research leaves little hope for any definitive conclusions.

There is little dispute that the virus first emerged in late 2019 in a wet market in Wuhan where wildlife was sold as food and that the pathogen is believed to be from an undetermined bat species.

The quest to detect its origins has also been plagued by conspiracy theories – amplified by US President Donald Trump – that have leaked from a Wuhan virology lab.

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