China blocks WHO investigators’ access to Wuhan
London: The World Health Organisation says China is refusing access to Wuhan to officials investigating the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.
Australia led calls for the inquiry which was eventually backed by a global coalition of 137 countries, including China, at a meeting of the World Health Assembly in May.
But it came amid concerns over Beijing's early cover-up of the virus and the role the WHO played in alerting the world to the public health crisis.
Xi Jinping at an event last September to honour those involved in the battle against COVID-19. Credit:AP
And Australia's demands for the investigation are, in part, blamed for the deterioration in the Australia-China relationship, with China cutting off billions of dollars worth of trade in retaliation.
World Health Organisation Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said two members of the investigative team had already left their home countries for Wuhan, as agreed in advance with China, when it became clear that Beijing had not issued the necessary permission for the team to enter the country.
"I'm very disappointed with this news given that two members had already begun their journey and others were not able to travel at the last minute," he told a news conference in Geneva.
"I have been in contact with senior Chinese officials and I have once again made it clear the mission is a priority for WHO and the international team."
"We're eager to get the mission underway as soon as possible," he said.
Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he had been "assured that China is speeding up the internal procedures for the earliest possible deployment".
But in later questioning, it was not clear when they would be permitted entry.
Dr Michael Ryan from WHO said the officials were not given visa clearances; one official was sent back home and the other is staying in a third country until China grants entry.
"We trust and we hope that this is just a logistic and bureaucratic issue [and] will be resolved very quickly," he said.
"This is frustrating and as the Director-General has said this is disappointing. We trust in good faith we can solve these issues in coming hours and recommence the deployment of the team as urgently as possible."
Adhanom Ghebreyesus' rare rebuke of China comes amid ongoing criticism by the United States and Australia of WHO's response to the pandemic, which was first detected in Wuhan at the end of 2019.
The Trump administration withdrew from the WHO claiming the organisation had been corrupted by China. Incoming president Joe Biden is poised to get the US to rejoin after his inauguration.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has previously claimed, without evidence, that Dr Tedros had been “hook line and sinker bought by the Chinese government.” The WHO strongly rejects the accusation.
China strictly controls the flow of any information coming from its own research into the virus' origins. The Associated Press obtained a notice from China's cabinet, marked, "not to be made public", that required all findings by any company or institution had to be cleared by the State Council. It said communication and publication of research had to be orchestrated like "a game of chess" under instructions from Xi.
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