WHO virus mission to China delayed amid Beijing stalling tactics

Alarms bells start to ring after investigation into the outbreak of Covid-19 is put on hold

Fears are growing that China is trying to stall a World Health Organisation scientific team from investigating the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic in Wuhan.

During a media briefing, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus expressed concerns about the delay in travel arrangements, admitting he was “very disappointed.”

More than 86 million people have been infected worldwide by the new strain of coronavirus since the pathogen first officially surfaced in the Chinese city of Wuhan a year ago. The death toll is hovering close to 1.8 million, wrecking the global economy.

Since then, President Xi Jinping’s administration has tried to change the narrative, insisting that SARS-CoV-2 had emerged in “multiple regions” across the planet at the same time.

The facts:

  • China agreed under pressure to allow a 10-strong team of international experts to travel to the country and pour over scientific data
  • Peter Ben Embarek, who specializes in animal diseases that cross the species barrier, is slated to lead the WHO mission.
  • Virologists are still looking for concrete evidence that the virus jumped naturally from bats to humans, possibly through an intermediary species.
  • Allegations that China covered up the Covid-19 outbreak in Wuhan have been reinforced by research released by the country’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • CDC data showed that people initially infected by the deadly virus could have topped 500,000 or 10 times higher than the reported numbers.
  • Before the study was published last month, China’s official figures stood at 50,354.

What was said: Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a regular news conference in Beijing that there had been a problem about the timing of the WHO mission and it was “not just about visas” for the team. “There’s no need to overinterpret this,” she said, adding that there had been a “misunderstanding” about the dates.

Reaction to the news: Ghebreyesus, the head of the WHO, sounded the alarm bells just hours before China’s statement. “Today we learned that Chinese officials have not yet finalized the necessary permissions for the team’s arrival in China. I have been in contact with senior Chinese officials and I have once again made it clear the mission is a priority for the WHO.”

China Factor comment: A joint motion by the European Union and Australia for an inquiry into the source of Covid-19 left China squirming back in May. It was eventually carried at the World Health Assembly meeting in Geneva. Nearly nine months later, Beijing again seems to be prevaricating while pushing an alternative agenda about the origins of the pathogen. Moreover, that view is in conflict with WHO findings. Beijing has also dismissed criticism of its initial handling of the outbreak even though a US$103 million early warning system was not activated during the crucial stages of the epidemic, according to Yang Gonghuan, the former deputy director of China’s Center for Disease Control.