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WHO Experts Head to China to Study Beginnings of Virus


FILE - In this April 7, 2020, file photo, workers in protective suits walk past the Hankou railway station on the eve of its resuming outbound traffic in Wuhan in central China's Hubei province.
WHO Experts Head to China to Study Beginnings of Virus
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Experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) are expected to start their search for the beginnings of the new coronavirus when they arrive in China this week.

China’s National Health Commission made the announcement in a one-sentence statement Monday. The experts will arrive on Thursday and meet with Chinese officials. No additional details were made available.

It remains unclear whether the experts will travel to the central Chinese city of Wuhan, where the coronavirus was first found in late 2019.

Negotiations for the visit have taken a long time. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus expressed concern last week over delays.

FILE - Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO) attends a session on the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak response of the WHO Executive Board in Geneva, Switzerland, Oct. 5, 2020.
FILE - Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO) attends a session on the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak response of the WHO Executive Board in Geneva, Switzerland, Oct. 5, 2020.


He said members of the international scientific team had already left their home countries. The trip was part of an agreement between the WHO and the Chinese government.

Earlier, a United Nations spokesperson told reporters at U.N. headquarters in New York that Secretary-General Antonio Guterres “is fully supportive of Dr. Tedros’ and WHO’s efforts to get a team in there.”

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said China had approved the visit after talks between the two sides. He called it a chance to exchange opinions “with Chinese scientists and medical experts on scientific cooperation on the tracing of the origin of the new coronavirus.” Zhao suggested that the origin would likely involve “multiple countries and localities.”

China’s government has controlled all research into the origins of the virus in the country, an Associated Press investigation found. State-operated media have spread theories that suggest the virus could have started outside of China.

An AP investigation found that China’s government is handing out hundreds of thousands of dollars in aid to scientists researching the virus’ origins in southern China. But it is watching their findings, and it ordered that the publication of any information or research be approved by a new committee supervised by China’s Cabinet. The AP found through internal documents that the research is under direct orders from President Xi Jinping.

The culture of secrecy is believed to have delayed warnings about the pandemic. It blocked the sharing of information with the WHO and slowed early efforts at testing. Reports say WHO officials felt frustration over not getting the information they needed to fight the spread of the deadly virus.

Australia and other countries have called for an investigation into the origins of the virus. That call has been met with anger from China.

The virus’ origins have caused much speculation. Much of it centered on the likelihood that it was carried by bats and passed to humans through an intermediary animal. It is thought the animal was sold as food or medicine in traditional Chinese markets.

China has largely limited new cases, but said Monday that tests show 103 people have been infected with the coronavirus in Hebei province, bordering Beijing.

That outbreak comes as officials are trying to limit the spread of the virus during next month’s Lunar New Year holiday. Officials have called on citizens not to travel, ordered schools to close one week early and carried out many tests.

China has recorded more than 87,536 total cases of the virus. Hospitals are currently treating hundreds of people for COVID-19, while about 506 other people have been separated from others. Those 506 are under observation after tests showed them to have the virus with no signs of sickness, officials said.

The Hebei outbreak has raised concern because the province surrounds Beijing. People in parts of the province are having their movements restricted and travel has been largely cut off. Those entering Beijing have to show proof of employment as well as proof that they do not have the virus.

I’m Mario Ritter Jr.

Mario Ritter Jr. adapted this AP report for VOA Learning English. Susan Shand was the editor.

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Words in This Story

trace ­–v. to find out where something started

origin –n. the point or place where something begins

multiple -adj. more than one, many

internal –adj. existing within an organization such as a company or government

frustration –n. a feeling of anger or unhappiness that results from being unable to do something or being blocked from doing it

speculation –n. ideas or guesses about something that is not known

intermediary –n. a person who works with both sides in an argument, a go-between taking something from one side to another

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