China’s government agreed Monday to allow virus inspectors from the World Health Organization into the country as part of a probe to learn the origin of the coronavirus.
The move was announced by the National Health Commission and followed complaints last week from WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus that China was blocking entry into the country by several U.N. virus scientists.
The commission stated in a brief notice that the WHO team will collaborate with Chinese scientists during the investigation into the virus origin. No details were provided.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters in Beijing that the delayed visit will go forward after “consultation between the two sides.”
“The Chinese government has agreed to the visit by WHO experts on January 14. During the visit, the international experts will hold exchanges with Chinese scientists and medical experts over scientific cooperation in origin-tracing,” said Mr. Zhao.
China also has been accused by the Trump administration of spreading disinformation about the virus, including that the false claims that the U.S. Army spread the disease and that the disease originated in Europe. The latest narrative promoted by China’s government is that the virus was transmitted to China on frozen food, a charge outside experts dispute.
China remains under international fire for what critics say was a mishandling the outbreak of the coronavirus and for failing to provide information on its origin.
Understanding where the disease outbreak began is needed to prevent future pandemics, according to researchers.
China’s government initially tried to cover up the outbreak by silencing doctors and scientists who tried to warn about the emergence of a new disease China initially called the Wuhan pneumonia. Beijing also provided false information about the contagiousness of the disease and initially told WHO that the virus was not communicable between humans.
China has failed to provide a clear explanation for the virus origin. Initially, authorities said the virus, described as originating in bats, emerged from an infected wild animal market in Wuhan that jumped to a human.
For virus hunters, identifying the first infected person or “patient zero” is said to be critical. That patient has not been identified by the Chinese.
A scientific report produced by Chinese scientists last year said the first known patient to contract the disease was treated at Wuhan Central Hospital on Dec. 1.
China delayed officially notifying the world of the disease in January 2020 and allowed millions of Wuhan citizens to travel around China and the world, action experts say greatly enhanced the spread of the pandemic.
Matt Pottinger, until recently White House deputy national security adviser, said that the idea that the virus began at the wild animal market is not long the leading theory. The latest information indicates the virus most likely originated from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which hosts China’s sole high-security laboratory for researching deadly pathogens.
“There is a growing body of evidence that the lab is likely the most credible source of the virus,” Mr. Pottinger told a group of British parliamentarians.
Mr. Zhao said China invited WHO experts twice in 2020 and has held frequent video conferences and seminars on the virus origin.