World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said a team sent to China to investigate the origins of the coronavirus pandemic were denied entry to the country. Photo by Fabrice Coffrini/EPA-EFE
Jan. 5 (UPI) -- The head of the World Health Organization has announced its researchers have been denied entry into China, barring them from investigating the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during a media briefing they learned Tuesday that Chinese officials have yet to grant their investigation team permission to enter the country.
Two members of the team, he said, had already left their home nations and were en route to the central Chinese city of Wuhan where the first outbreak of COVID-19 began in December 2019 when they learned they wouldn't be permitted entrance.
"Today we learned that Chinese officials have not yet finalized the necessary permissions for the team's arrival in China," he said. "I am very disappointed with this news given that two members had already begun their journeys."
Ghebreyesus said he is in contact with senior officials to whom he has made clear the investigation mission is a priority for the WHO.
"I have been assured that China is speeding up the internal procedure for the earliest possible deployment," he said. "We are eager to get the mission underway as soon as possible."
Mike Ryan, the executive director of the WHO Health Emergencies Program, said the issues had to do with visa clearances.
"We trust and we hope that this is just a logistic and bureaucratic issue, which can be resolved very quickly," he said.
The two members of the 10-person team had already left their home countries with the rest of the team expected to deploy Tuesday but one of them has instead gone to a third country while the other was rerouted for a short journey home, Ryan added.
"We did not want to put people in the air unnecessarily if there was not a guarantee of their arrival in China being successful," he said.
In May, the WHO approved a resolution led by the European Union and Australia to establish an independent investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, despite China's pushback.
The 10-member team was announced last month following months of negotiations as Beijing as been reluctant to allow an independent probe of the origins of the virus within its borders, the BBC reported.
The United States has heavily criticized China over its handling of the pandemic and has accused the WHO of aiding the Asian nation in covering up its initial outbreak of the virus.
In July, President Donald Trump announced he had sent formal notice to Congress and the United Nations that the United States is withdrawing from the WHO over these issues.