Australia on Thursday urged China to give access to World Health Organization (WHO) officials investigating the origins of COVID-19 “without delay”, as China said it was still trying to “create conditions” for the experts’ visit.
“We hope that the necessary permissions for the WHO team’s travel to China can be issued without delay,” said Marise Payne, Australia’s foreign minister.
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She reiterated the importance of the WHO-convened scientific study and said: “We look forward to the findings from the international field mission to China”.
The WHO expert team was due in China this month to investigate how the pandemic began and was set to visit the central city of Wuhan where the-then “mysterious” illness first appeared late in 2019. More than 87 million people around the world have now been diagnosed with what has become known as COVID-19 which has caused the deaths of nearly 1.9 million people.
Earlier this week, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said he was “very disappointed” to discover that China had still not authorised the entry of the team of international experts. Two of the 10-person team had already begun their journey when the problem came to light, he said.
At a press conference on Wednesday, China said it was still in discussions over the details of the visit, whose terms of reference – developed in consultation with China – were published last year.
“We hope that the specific dates and arrangements of their visit can be decided as soon as possible through our discussions,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters at a news briefing in Beijing.
“The origin-tracing is a very complicated matter,” she added. “To ensure the work of international experts goes smoothly, we need to undergo necessary procedures and make specific arrangements.”
Although China is battling a sudden outbreak of COVID-19 in the province of Hebei, where it has begun mass testing of the city’s 11 million residents, the virus has been brought under control and life has largely returned to normal.
Australia, which has seen its relations with China sour over the past few months, has been a leading voice in calling for an independent inquiry into the origins of COVID-19. Outgoing US President Donald Trump has also been critical of China and its handling of the pandemic.