China on Monday said that a group of experts from the World Health Organization will arrive in the country on January 14 for an investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, AP reported.
The long-awaited mission will come at a time when the coronavirus has affected over 9 crore people worldwide, causing almost 20 lakh deaths.
A one-sentence announcement from the National Health Commission said the experts would arrive on Thursday and meet with Chinese counterparts. But it was not immediately clear whether they would be travelling to the central Chinese city of Wuhan, where the coronavirus was first detected in late 2019.
The WHO team “will conduct joint research cooperation on the origins of Covid-19 with Chinese scientists,” the National Health Commission said in the statement, according to AFP. The team will be expected to quarantine for two weeks upon their arrival in China.
Negotiations for the visit have long been underway. WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus had expressed disappointment last week over delays, after China reportedly did not allow the team to enter the country as per the scheduled visit.
China, in return, had said that the delays were “not just a visa issue,” and that talks were underway to fix a specific time. Foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying had said the matter of virus origin-tracing was complicated. “To ensure the work of the international expert team in China goes smoothly, we have to carry out necessary procedures and make relevant arrangements,” Hua had said, adding there was no reason to “overinterpret the matter”.
Beijing has regularly denied claims that the virus originated in the country. It had also faced flak from the international community for allegedly covering up the transmission of the disease and for acting too slowly to stop its spread.
In an interview given to state-run Xinhua news agency on January 1, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi claimed that the coronavirus pandemic was likely caused by outbreaks outside the country, in an attempt to change the narrative about the infection’s origin.
“We raced against time and were the first country to report cases to the world,” Yi had said. “More and more research suggests that the pandemic was likely to have been caused by separate outbreaks in multiple places in the world.”
Chinese state-run media and officials have pushed alternate theories that the coronavirus could have entered the country through imported frozen food, linked the infection to the United States military and cited research suggesting cases in the US and Italy pre-date those in Wuhan.