Under global glare, Beijing delayed the access of independent experts to China to investigate the origin of the pandemic and hesitated to agree to the investigation.
However, WHO now states that China allows expert visits, with a team of 10 arriving shortly for a five- or six-week visit, including two weeks spent on quarantine. intend to do something.
Chinese officials refused to confirm the exact date and details of the visit this week. This is a manifestation of the lasting sensitivity of their mission.
Covid-19 was first detected in the central city of Wuhan in late 2019. It then crossed China’s borders, causing havoc, killing more than 1.8 million people and investigating the economy.
However, its origins are still fiercely contested and lost in a fog of criticism and speculation from the international community. There is also obfuscation from Chinese authorities who have decided to keep control of the virus story.
The WHO team has promised to focus on science, especially how the coronavirus has leapt from animals that appear to be bats to humans.
“This is not about finding a guilty country or guilty authority,” Fabian Leendertz of the Robert Koch Institute, Germany’s central disease control agency, one of the visiting teams, told AFP in late December.
“This is to understand what happened to reduce the risk and avoid it in the future.”
However, the reasonably expected WHO mission to be achieved and the national pressures they face have been questioned, and the mission has rubber stamped rather than challenged the official Chinese story. There is growing concern that it may be useful.
Geopolitics is better than health
This is not the first time Covid-19 has brought the WHO team to China. Last year’s mission considered the response of the authorities rather than the source of the virus, and in the summer another mission laid the foundation for the next investigation.
But this time, WHO is between the blaming Western nations and Chinese leaders who have decided to show that their secretive, hierarchical political system has helped stop the outbreak rather than spread it. Get stuck and step into a swamp of competing interests.
It is unclear who can be met to follow the first days and weeks of the pandemic when experts arrive in Wuhan.
Within China, whistleblowers were silenced and citizen journalists were imprisoned. Among them is a 37-year-old woman who was imprisoned for four years during a long blockade from the city last week.
Outside, responsibility for viruses is a weapon.
From the beginning, US President Donald Trump used the virus as a political club against his rival China.
He accused Beijing of trying to hide the outbreak of what he called the “Chinese virus,” and repeated unfounded rumors leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Veterans Affairs.
Trump then withdrew the United States from the WHO, accusing him of softening China, a country that was also involved in a fierce trade war.
Critics say the accusation blizzard sought to distract Washington’s deadlocked response to the crisis that has killed more than 350,000 Americans so far.
Without them, “many of these situations we had in January 2020 wouldn’t have worked as it did,” one said.
“It was geopolitics that put the world in this situation,” Ilona Kickbusch of the Global Health Center at the Graduate Institute for International Development Studies in Geneva told AFP.
Since then, China has skillfully restructured that version of the event, praising its “extraordinary success” in curbing pandemics within its borders and restarting the economy.
Beijing is now taking rescue of poor countries, promising cheap vaccines and instilling suspicion that the virus has spread even in China.
Foreign Minister Wang Yi recently reiterated the unproven claim that “a pandemic is likely to have started in multiple places around the world.”
If politics and the unprecedented health crisis continue to be confused, experts fear deeper losses in the fight against borderless pandemics.
“There is a sense of turmoil in this world,” Kickbush said. “When trust deviates from world health, it will be, it’s very difficult to cooperate.”
In that spirit, WHO said international experts are expected to “strengthen ongoing or existing efforts, not overlap,” during future visits to China. That is, it does not investigate studies already provided by local scientists.
“I’m not optimistic. It’s cold now,” said Gregory Gray, a professor of infectious diseases at Duke University, about the possibility that foreign experts are tracking the animal origin of the virus.
But he emphasized that this trip may not be completely in vain. It may be possible to lay the foundation for “sustainable surveillance” in the event of a future virus outbreak.