China says a team of scientists from the World Health Organization will arrive this week in Wuhan to begin its investigation of the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said Tuesday that the 10-member team will leave from Singapore this Thursday and fly directly to Wuhan, the central city where the coronavirus was first detected in late 2019. The virus eventually spread to nearly every corner of the globe, leading to more than 1.9 million fatalities out of nearly 91 million infections.
China has sought to change the narrative over the virus’s origins, with officials eagerly pushing theories that it first emerged in other nations.
Dr. Mike Ryan, the head of WHO’s emergencies program, told reporters in Geneva Monday the agency is simply “looking for the answers here that may save us in the future. Not culprits and not people to blame.”
Ryan said if blame exists, “we can blame climate change. We can blame policy decisions made 30 years ago about everything from urbanization to the way we exploit the forest,”
A health expert affiliated with WHO has said that expectations should be “very low” the mission will lead to a conclusion about the origins of the virus that causes the COVID-19 illness.
The United States, which has accused China of having hidden the original 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. President Donald Trump has accused the agency of being a puppet of China.
The WHO team’s journey to Wuhan comes a week after Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus expressed disappointment with China’s failure to grant final permission to the delegation to enter the country, although the plans had been jointly arranged between the two sides.
Beijing dismissed Tedros’s criticisms, calling the delay a “misunderstanding.”