The World Health Organization (WHO) expressed disappointment Tuesday with the failure of Chinese officials to grant final permission to an international team of researchers to enter the country to investigate the origins of the coronavirus.
At the agency’s regular COVID-19 briefing at WHO headquarters in Geneva, Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he was "very disappointed" that China had not authorized entry of the team, some of whom had begun their travels to Wuhan. The news forced other members of the team to cancel their travel at the last minute.
Tedros said plans for the trip had been arranged jointly among WHO officials, the Chinese government and the countries for which the team was meant to travel through on their way to Wuhan. He said the agency just learned Tuesday "that Chinese officials have not yet finalized the necessary permissions for the team's arrival in China."
Tedros said he had 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. I have been assured that China is speeding up the internal procedures for the earliest possible deployment. We are eager to get the mission under way as soon as possible.”
China reported the first cases of a pneumonia of unknown cause in Wuhan to the WHO on Dec. 31, 2019, and closed a market where the novel coronavirus was believed to have emerged.
Health ministers called on the WHO in May to identify the source of the virus and how it crossed the species barrier.
The United States, which has accused China of having hidden the outbreak's extent, has called for a "transparent" WHO-led investigation and criticized its terms, which allowed Chinese scientists to do the first phase of preliminary research. U.S. President Donald Trump has accused the agency of being a puppet for China during the pandemic. The coronavirus causes the COVID-19 illness.