News World Health Organisation experts set to arrive in China for coronavirus origin probe

World Health Organisation experts set to arrive in China for coronavirus origin probe

China's government has strictly controlled research into the origins of the virus. Photo: AP/Chinatopix
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Experts from the World Health Organisation (WHO) will soon arrive in China for a long-anticipated investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.

The experts will arrive on Thursday and meet with Chinese counterparts, China’s National Health Commission said in a one-sentence statement that gave no other details.

It was not immediately clear whether the experts would be travelling to the central Chinese city of Wuhan where coronavirus was first detected in late 2019.

Negotiations for the visit have long been under way.

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus last week expressed disappointment over the mission being delayed.

He said members of the international scientific team had already started their journey from their home countries to China as part of an arrangement between the WHO and Beijing when China informed the organisation it was not ready for their arrival.

China’s government has strictly controlled all research at home into the origins of the virus, while state-owned media have played up fringe theories that suggest the virus could have originated elsewhere.

The culture of secrecy is believed to have delayed warnings about the pandemic, blocked the sharing of information with the WHO and hampered early testing.

Australia and other countries have called for an investigation into the origins of the virus, prompting angry responses from Beijing.

After Mr Tedros’ statement, China’s Foreign Ministry said the country was open to a visit by WHO experts, but it was still working on “necessary procedures and relevant concrete plans”.

China’s disease experts were busy with multiple small-scale virus clusters and outbreaks that had been reported in the past couple of weeks, ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said.

“Our experts are wholeheartedly in the stressful battle to control the epidemic,” Mr Hua said.

There was no immediate comment from the WHO on Monday’s announcement, but UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric had earlier told reporters at UN headquarters in New York that secretary-general Antonio Guterres was “fully supportive of Dr Tedros’ and WHO’s efforts to get a team in there”.