China not opening up is ‘concerning’ says Tory MP Tugendhat
China played down World Health Organization (WHO) concerns about a delay in the authorisation for a visit by a team of experts looking into the origins of the novel coronavirus, saying arrangements were being worked out. The head of the WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said on Tuesday he was “very disappointed” that China had not authorised the entry of the team for the investigation, which he said was a WHO priority. Tory MP Tom Tugendhat said the situation was “concerning”.
The Chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee told talkRADIO: “I am not very surprised but I am very concerned. The Chinese government has spent a long time making sure the World Health Organisation is pretty compliant with their wishes already.
“So the fact they won’t let in their own domestic scientists is really pretty concerning.
“This is one of those moments when we really need to know the origins and indeed the causes of this outbreak.
“Because it could happen again, we know that.
“We need to make sure that lab security, and there may be lessons from the Wuhan lab that apply in the UK, in France, in Brazil, or who knows where.
“So it’s absolutely essential that we find a way of getting these scientists in and sharing this knowledge.”
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He added: “This is about making sure that the human population of the entire world, nine billion people, are not exposed to greater risk than they have to be.
“We already know the cost of this, we know the impact, not just on us in the UK but on hundreds and hundreds of people around the world.
“The loss of education opportunities, job opportunities and of course many deaths. So the fact that China won’t open up says all you need to know about their idea of humanity.”
The novel coronavirus was first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019 and has since spread around the world.
Much remains unknown about its origins and China has been sensitive about any suggestion it could have done more in the early stages of the pandemic to stop it.
Foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a regular news briefing in Beijing that the problem was “not just about visas” for the team.
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Asked about reports that the dates had been agreed upon, she said there had been a “misunderstanding” and the two sides were still in discussions over the timing and other arrangements and “remain in close communication”.
“There’s no need to overinterpret this,” she said.
China’s experts were also busy dealing with a renewed spurt of coronavirus infections, with many locations entering “wartime footing” to stop the virus, she said.
The 10-strong team of international experts had been due to set off in early January as part of a long-awaited mission to investigate early cases of the disease.
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China has been seeking to shape the narrative about when and where the pandemic began, with senior diplomat Wang Yi saying “more and more studies” showed that it emerged in multiple regions. WHO emergencies chief Mike Ryan has previously called this “highly speculative”.
China has also dismissed criticism of its handling of early cases although some, including U.S. President Donald Trump, have questioned the country’s actions during the outbreak.
The United States, which has announced plans to leave the WHO, has called for a “transparent” investigation and criticised the terms under which Chinese experts conducted a first phase of research.
The mission is due to be led by Peter Ben Embarek, the WHO’s top expert on animal diseases that cross the species barrier, who went to China on a preliminary mission last July.
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