A year after the outbreak began, WHO experts will pay a highly politicized visit to China to explore the origins of the coronavirus. The trip is accompanied by allegations of cover-up, conspiracy and fear of being whitewashed.
Under the global influence, Beijing delayed independent experts’ access to China to investigate the causes of the pandemic and was reluctant to agree to an investigation.
But WHO is now saying that China has given permission for its experts to visit. A team of 10 is expected to arrive shortly for a five- or six-week visit – including fourteen days in quarantine.
The Chinese authorities this week refused to confirm the exact dates and details of the visit, a sign of the continued sensitivity of their mission.
Covid-19 was first discovered in downtown Wuhan in late 2019 before it seeped beyond China’s borders and wreaked havoc, killing over 1.8 million lives and gutting economies.
But its origins remain bitterly debated, lost in a fog of accusations and suspicions from the international community – as well as concealment by Chinese authorities determined to maintain control over their virus narrative.
The WHO team has promised to focus on science, particularly how the coronavirus jumped from animals – presumably bats – to humans.
“The point here is not to find a guilty country or a guilty authority,” said Fabian Leendertz from the Robert Koch Institute, Germany’s central epidemic control center, which will be part of the team to be visited, to AFP at the end of December.
“This is about understanding what happened in order to avoid this in the future and reduce the risk.”
However, doubts have been expressed about what the WHO mission can reasonably expect and what government pressure it will be under, raising fears that the mission will serve to stamp and not question China’s official history .
Geopolitics trumps health
The upcoming visit won’t be the first time Covid-19 has brought WHO teams to China. One mission last year looked more at the response of the authorities than at the origin of the virus. Another mission in the summer laid the foundation for the upcoming investigation.
But this time the WHO will get caught in a quagmire of competing interests stuck between accusing Western nations and a Chinese leadership determined to show that their secret and hierarchical political system was designed to contain, not spread, the outbreak.
It is unclear who the experts can meet when they arrive in Wuhan to understand the first days and weeks of the pandemic.
In China, whistleblowers have been silenced and citizen journalists have been jailed, including a 37-year-old woman who was jailed for four years last week for video reporting from the city during her extended lockdown.
Outside responsibility for the virus was armed.
US President Donald Trump used the virus as a political stick against the great power rival China from the start.
He accused Beijing of trying to hide the outbreak of the so-called “China virus” and reiterated unfounded rumors that it leaked from a Wuhan laboratory.
Trump then pulled the US out of WHO, accusing it of gently treating China, a nation with which he was also embroiled in a bitter trade war.
Critics say a blizzard of allegations has attempted to divert attention from Washington’s botched response to a crisis that has killed more than 350,000 Americans to date.
Without them, one said, “many of the situations we had in January 2020 would not have played out as they were.”
“It’s geopolitics that … puts the world in this situation,” Ilona Kickbusch of the Global Health Center at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva told AFP.
China has since cleverly reshaped its version of events, celebrating its “tremendous success” in containing the pandemic within its borders and restarting its economy.
Beijing now says it will help save poorer nations, promise cheap vaccines and raise doubts that the virus even originated in China.
Foreign Minister Wang Yi recently reiterated the unsubstantiated claim that “the pandemic likely started in several places around the world“.
If politics and an unprecedented health crisis continue to grow together, experts fear deeper losses in the fight against a pandemic that knows no borders.
“There is this feeling of the world in disarray,” said Kickbusch. “When trust disappears from global health, it becomes so difficult to work together.”
With this in mind, WHO has stated that its international experts are expected to “step up, rather than double”, ongoing or existing efforts on their upcoming visit to China, meaning that they will review the research already provided by local scientists will not investigate.
“I’m not optimistic. The trail is cold now,” said Professor Gregory Gray of the Infectious Diseases Division at Duke University of the likelihood of overseas experts tracking the animal origin of the virus.
But the trip may not be entirely in vain, he stressed: it could lay the foundation for “sustainable monitoring” if future virus outbreaks occur.
(This story was not edited by GossipMantri staff and is automatically generated from a syndicated feed.)