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EU tells China to let in WHO team to study Covid origins

  • Chinese officials have blocked the arrival of international researchers studying the origins of the pandemic (Photo: Guilhem Vellut)

The EU has demanded China cooperate with the international community to understand better the coronavirus, after Chinese officials blocked the arrival of a group of World Health Organization (WHO) researchers investigating the origins of pandemic in Wuhan.

"We expect China to live up to their commitments and provide the WHO with all the necessary access and assistance to successfully carry out its investigations into the origin of Covid-19, in compliance with the international health regulations," an EU spokesperson told EUobserver on Wednesday (6 January).

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"Such studies are crucial in order to improve global preparedness and the response to the current Covid-19 pandemic and emerging zoonotic diseases of similar origin," the source added.

A group of 10 international researchers were due in China this month to study the earliest cases of the pandemic in the city of Wuhan, in a mission which was already considered highly-politicised.

However, in a last-minute decision, Chinese officials did not authorise entry of the team into China - although two researchers had already begun their journeys.

Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said on Wednesday that the problem was "not just about visas" not being approved, arguing that there had been a "misunderstanding" over the timing, and other arrangements that remain under discussion.

Beijing has been trying to change the narrative of the origins of the virus, saying that more and more studies show that Covid-19 emerged in multiple regions, Reuters reported.

Last year, in a resolution tabled by the European Union, WHO members called for an "impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation" of the international response to the pandemic, which has infected more than 84 million people and killed over 1.8 million worldwide.

Additionally, the resolution has as one of its key points the importance of a better understanding of the circumstances that allowed this pandemic to develop, in order to strengthen global preparedness for the future.

Australia, which led calls for the independent probe in the past, has also called on China to let the WHO team into the country as soon as possible.

The calls for an independent investigation came amid a wave of criticism from the US, accusing the UN health agency of letting the pandemic get "out of control" and of being a "puppet of China".

China came under fire for its initial handling over the coronavirus outbreak, despite being initially praised by the WHO for its quick response.

In June, an investigation published by Associated Press revealed that China delayed releasing coronavirus information during the early days of the outbreak, frustrating efforts within the WHO.

China rejected the report saying that Beijing's response to the first outbreaks was an open book with a clear timeline.

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