Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization, has expressed disappointment and dismay as Chinese officials blocked 10 WHO investigators from beginning an investigation in Wuhan, China about the origins of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Chinese officials said that the investigators’ visas hadn’t been approved even though some international experts on the team had already begun traveling to the country. Others have delayed their travel indefinitely while the matter remains in discussion.
“I’m very disappointed with this news,” Ghebreyesus said, according to The Guardian. “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.”
Investigative team member Dr. Mike Ryan said he hopes the block by Chinese officials is “just a logistical and bureaucratic issue that can be resolved very quickly,” according to the aforementioned publication.
The WHO has been in talks about the investigation with Chinese officials for months, stating the need to understand how the coronavirus jumped species from animals to humans.
In May, the epidemiological journal PLOS Pathogens published a paper suggesting that coronavirus originated within bats. But since direct interactions between humans and bats are relatively rare, scientists believe that a second animal may have acted as an intermediary host, whose biology changed the virus’ molecular structure, making it more infectious to humans.
U.S. President Donald Trump and his Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have publicly stated that they believe COVID-19 was developed in China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV).
However, infectious diseases expert Dr. Anthony Fauci contradicted their claims in May, telling National Geographic, “Everything about the stepwise evolution over time strongly indicates that [this virus] evolved in nature and then jumped species.”
U.S. intelligence concluded that the COVID-19 novel coronavirus was neither man-made nor genetically modified. China has also rejected accusations that the WIV was involved in the pandemic.
On May 4, The Global Times newspaper—owned by the official publication of the Chinese Communist Party—published an editorial demanding that Pompeo provide any evidence for his claim, suggesting he was “bluffing.”
The Trump Administration has long criticized the WHO’s relationship with China.
After the WHO commended China for using testing, contact tracing and isolation to help stop COVID-19’s spread, Trump said China had “total control” over the agency. Soon after, he threatened to terminate the U.S. relationship with the WHO unless it made “major substantive improvements” to its pandemic response.
The U.S. withdrew from the WHO in July 2020. President-elect Joe Biden has said he will restore the nation’s involvement with the WHO.
Newsweek contacted the World Health Organization for comment.
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