Delays to a long-planned mission by WHO experts to China to investigate the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic are “not just a visa issue”, Beijing said Wednesday.
A year after the outbreak started, international health experts were expected to arrive in China this week for a highly politicised visit to explore the beginnings of the virus, which first emerged late last year in the city of Wuhan.
The sensitive mission has been beset by delays and politics, with fears of a whitewash by Beijing.
Foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters Wednesday that talks were continuing between the two sides over “the specific date and specific arrangement of the expert group’s visit”.
“The issue of origin-tracing is incredibly 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,” said Hua.
She said the country is “doing its best to create good conditions for the international expert group to come to China”.
On Tuesday the head of the World Health Organization told reporters Beijing had not yet finalised permission for the team’s arrival, saying he was “very disappointed with this news” — in a rare rebuke of Beijing from the UN body.
Earlier this week Chinese authorities refused to confirm the exact dates and details of the visit, a sign of the enduring sensitivity of the mission.
The WHO had previously said China has granted permission for a visit by a 10-person team.
Hua said China was “placing great importance and is actively communicating with the WHO”.