Beijing: China said on Monday that a group of experts from the WHO is due to arrive in the country on Thursday to probe the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, ending the uncertainty and delay which drew sharp criticism from the world health body.
Experts from the WHO will conduct a field visit to China on January 14, the state-run CGTN quoted China's National Health Commission as saying in a report.
The team's visit to China, especially to Wuhan where the virus first emerged in December last year, has become a bone of contention as Beijing, which questions the widely-held view about the virus' origins in Wuhan, had delayed granting permission the 10-member team of experts.
On January 9, Zeng Yixin, the deputy head of the National Health Commission (NHC) told the media here that the exact time of the team's arrival in Wuhan was still under negotiations.
China and the World Health Organization (WHO) have reached a consensus on specific arrangements of the investigation with four video conferences, Zeng said.
Once the WHO experts complete their procedures and finalise the schedule, Chinese experts will go to Wuhan with them to conduct the investigation, Zeng said.
Monday's confirmation came after WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who is often accused of being pro-China, in a rare instance of criticism had expressed disappointment over Beijing not finalising the necessary permissions for the experts' team's arrival.
"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 UN health agency and it was eager to get it "underway as soon as possible".
The delay by China to finalise the visit fuelled concerns that Beijing was obstructing global efforts to trace the origins of COVID-19.
Reacting to Tedros comments, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying had said: "there might be some misunderstanding on this".
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 and spread to humans. The market remained closed and sealed since early last year.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said in a recent interview with the official media that China "raced against time" and was the first country to report coronavirus cases to the world.
"More and more research suggests that the pandemic was likely to have been caused by separate outbreaks in multiple places in the world," he said.
In May last year, the World Health Assembly (WHA) - the governing body of the 194-member states of the WHO - approved a resolution to set up an independent inquiry to conduct an "impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation" of the international response, as well as that of the WHO.
It also asked the WHO to investigate the "source of the virus and the route of introduction to the human population".