- A WHO spokesman, Margaret Harris, said at a UN briefing, "they are the advance team to determine the scope of the investigation."
- The WHO's mission is politically sensitive.
- Recordings of WHO's internal meetings showed that the experts of the agency were very dissatisfied with the information provided by China.
A spokesman for the World Health Organization (WHO) announced on Friday that an advance team sent by the agency has traveled to China to investigate the origins of the new coronavirus. Two experts were sent by the WHO, one is a zoologist and the other is an epidemiologist.
A WHO spokesman, Margaret Harris, said at a UN briefing, “they are the advance team to determine the scope of the investigation.” In a review of the global response to the new coronavirus epidemic on Thursday, Harris said that WHO will not intervene in this independent investigation.
“They have gone, they are in the air now, they are the advance party that is to work out the scope,” Harris told a briefing, declining to name them.
The WHO’s mission is politically sensitive. As the main sponsor of the United Nations agency, the United States accused the WHO of failing to properly handle the epidemic and favoring China.
This week, the United States announced its withdrawal from the organization. At a press conference on Friday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said, “China is the first to invite WHO to send experts to discuss the issue of scientific traceability.”
“One of the big issues that everybody is interested in, and of course that’s why we’re sending an animal health expert, is to look at whether or not it jumped from species to a human and what species it jumped from,” Harris said. “We know it’s very, very similar to the virus in the bat, but did it go through an intermediate species? This is a question we all need answered,” she said.
At the World Health Assembly in May, more than 120 countries asked to investigate the origin of the outbreak. China insists that the WHO preside over the investigation and wait until the epidemic is under control before starting. At present, the number of infections in the United States, Brazil, and India is still rising.
The last time the WHO visited China was in February. The head of the expert group was a doctor from Canada, Bruce Aylward, who praised China’s anti-epidemic measures and information sharing. Subsequently, Canadian and American officials criticized him for opening up on China.
According to the Associated Press investigation report, recordings of WHO’s internal meetings showed that the experts of the agency were very dissatisfied with the information provided by China on the epidemic lag and serious deficiencies.
They complained that China had delayed more than a week before releasing the virus gene sequences completely cracked by three government laboratories.
Senior WHO officials privately complained that during the critical week that began on January 6, China did not share enough data to assess whether the virus can effectively spread from person to person and what risks it poses to the rest of the world.