WHO mission: A team of experts to investigate China or save it?

New Delhi, Delhi, IndiaEdited By: Gravitas deskUpdated: Feb 09, 2021, 11:02 PM IST
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Since the idea was first floated, the probe into the origins of the coronavirus has faced a crisis of credibility, for more reasons than one

The joint press conference held by the WHO mission in Wuhan has left the world with more questions than answers and serious holes in its reports. 

In the press conference, there was no mention of the whistle-blowers who warned about the outbreak in China first and neither did the investigators meet the families of the victims who have been trying to sue the Chinese officials for their cover-up.

Since the idea was first floated, the probe into the origins of the coronavirus has faced a crisis of credibility, for more reasons than one. More than 100 countries cleared this investigation last year in May but China is the one that controlled it. 

For months, the WHO was negotiating the terms of access to China. It allowed Chinese scientists to lead the key parts of the inquiry and all that the WHO experts could do was review Chinese studies as they were not allowed to gather facts on the ground themselves.

The negotiations went on until the end of 2020. Then, finally, when the investigators flew to China, Beijing denied them entry, leading to a rebuke from the Director-General of the WHO, Dr Tedros. The experts finally got access in January. Upon their arrival, the team was placed under quarantine for two weeks. They finally got down to work by the end of January.

Once again, China was dictating the terms. The itinerary was allegedly cleared by the Chinese authorities. For a week, the experts were whisked around Wuhan with China's foreign ministry officials, local government staff, security guards and officers in plain clothes shadowing the entire team. Even the international press was kept at a distance.

The team had several stopovers at Wuhan including the first hospitals that treated the patients, the lab of China's centre for disease control and prevention in Wuhan, the Wuhan wet market that China has kept shut since last year and the controversial Wuhan Institute of Virology, the place that had allegedly disappeared from the Baidu maps in China.

In the weeks leading up to the visit from the WHO team, amid the serious doubts about the credibility of this probe, one of the investigators tried to reassure the sceptics. China's objectives with the probe were quite clear, it wanted to use the opportunity to shift what the world believes. It wanted the world to stop thinking that Wuhan is the original epicentre of this pandemic.

The WHO team was taken on a tour of propaganda exhibition that celebrates China's recovery from the pandemic — one that makes no mention of how China tried to muzzle critics and whistle-blowers in the early days.

Experts watching the probe unfold from a distance criticised China claiming that meaningful access is being denied to the investigators and this included the new US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.