The head of the World Health Organization said Tuesday that he is "disappointed" Chinese officials haven't finalised the permissions to allow a team of experts into China to examine the origins of COVID-19.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, in a rare critique of Beijing, said members of the international scientific team began departing from their home countries over the last 24 hours as part of an arrangement between WHO and the Chinese government.
"Today, we learned that Chinese officials have not yet finalized the necessary permissions for the team's arrival in China," Tedros said during a news conference in Geneva.
"I'm very disappointed with this news, given that two members had already begun their journeys and others were not able to travel at the last minute, but had been in contact with senior Chinese officials," he said.
Tedros said he "made it clear" that the mission was a priority for the U.N. health agency, and that he was "assured that China is speeding up the internal procedures for the earliest possible deployment." "We are eager to get the mission underway as soon as possible," he said.
Meanwhile, An embarrassed China on Wednesday acknowledged that there could be some "misunderstanding" between Beijing and the World Health Organisation over granting timely permission to experts to visit the country to probe the origin of the coronavirus, even as it gave no indication about when it will allow them to come.
Answering a spate of questions at a media briefing here on Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying sought to downplay Tedros comments, saying that "there might be some misunderstanding on this".
"We can understand Dr Tedros and the WHO," she said.”
"We hope the details can be determined as soon as possible. Hope the WHO can understand this. We always have smooth communication channels. There might be some misunderstanding on this. I believe it will continue," Hua said.
Asked whether the delay is about granting visas to the 10-member of international experts, Hua said, "We have good cooperation with Dr Tedros. We can understand him, but if you like to visit other places, you need to talk in advance to the other side to discuss dates." Pointing to the resurfacing of the coronavirus, she said, "There are minor outbreaks all around the world", adding that Chinese experts and authorities are busy dealing with the epidemic situation at home.
"Still we attach importance to WHO's visit to China and we have been in discussions. We hope through our discussions and efforts we can make decisions on their dates and arrangements as soon as possible," Hua said.
China has been proactively questioning the widely-held view that the deadly outbreak broke out in a wet market in Wuhan where live animals, birds and reptiles are sold. The market remained closed and sealed since early last year.