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A top Chinese health official says China is ready for a WHO team trip to Wuhan, where the coronavirus was first detected. Photo: AFP

Coronavirus: China ‘ready and open’ for WHO team visit to Wuhan in origin quest

  • Top Chinese health official says terms have been agreed but the start date is still being determined
  • Comments come after WHO chief voices frustration at Beijing over travel dates
China is “enthusiastic, open and supportive” about a visit to Wuhan by a WHO team to investigate the source of the coronavirus that causes Covid-19, a top Chinese health official said on Saturday.

Zeng Yixin, deputy director of the National Health Commission, said China and the World Health Organisation had agreed on terms of the research but the specific time of arrival was still being determined.

“We enthusiastically support the expert group from the WHO to conduct an investigation into the source of [the coronavirus],” Zeng said.

“We have had four video meetings and conducted full and scientific discussions with the group during each meeting. We had candid consultations on specific arrangements for the process, focus, details and procedures of the investigation and reached agreement.”


Seeking the invisible: hunt for origins of deadly Covid-19 coronavirus will take scientists to Wuhan

Seeking the invisible: hunt for origins of deadly Covid-19 coronavirus will take scientists to Wuhan
Zeng’s remarks came after the WHO publicly expressed frustration that Beijing had not given final approval for its team’s arrival in China.

Two members had already started their journeys but could not complete them. Others were not able to travel at the last minute because they were yet to be granted a visa, WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying played down the delay, saying there might be a misunderstanding and Beijing was still in discussions with the WHO on the specific dates.


Zeng said Chinese specialists in epidemiology, virology, public health and clinical medicine would work with the WHO team and were waiting for confirmation of the start date.

“We are ready here. As long as these experts complete the procedures and confirm the schedule, we will go to Wuhan together to carry out the investigation,” he said.

Coronavirus: after the outbreak, asymptomatic cases lurked in Wuhan, study finds

Scientists have suggested that the coronavirus that causes Covid-19 came from bats and spread to an unknown animal before spreading to humans, a process called spillover. It is important to retrace the steps to find out how the process happened to prepare for future viral spillovers.

But the quest has come amid international calls to investigate China’s initial handling of the outbreak in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.

US President Donald Trump went one step further last year, making unsubstantiated claims that a laboratory in Wuhan was the source of the virus.

In April Australia gained momentum for its call for investigation into the origins and early handling of the outbreak. China eventually joined with most nations to support a European Union draft for an inquiry but it has pushed back at what it says is an attempt to politicise a scientific issue.


Coronavirus ground zero market still closed in Wuhan, China almost a year since start of pandemic

Coronavirus ground zero market still closed in Wuhan, China almost a year since start of pandemic
A two-person team from the WHO visited China to lay the groundwork in August but the line-up of the 10-member team was only finalised in November.

In recent weeks, China has floated the idea that while Wuhan might be where the first infections were detected, the source might have been elsewhere, given that some outbreaks in port cities were believed to be caused by imported frozen goods.

Zeng said China had pursued the various avenues on the origin of the virus and hoped the research with the WHO would improve understanding of the pathogen.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Beijing ‘ready’ for visit by W.H.O. virus team