Beijing will welcome an international team of COVID-19 investigators due to travel to China in January, said the World Health Organization (WHO), which is leading the mission.
China has strongly opposed demands for an international inquiry into the origin of the coronavirus and says such talks are anti-China, but has been open to a WHO-led inquiry.
However, it was unclear whether WHO investigators will travel to the city of Wuhan, where the virus was first discovered, with discussions about the itinerary ongoing.
“The WHO continues to contact China and discuss the international team and the places they visit,” said Babatunde Olowokure, WHO’s regional director of the West Pacific, at a news conference on Thursday.
“Our understanding right now is that China welcomes the international team and their visit … As far as we are aware, this is expected to happen in early January,” he said.
On Wednesday, a WHO member and diplomats told Reuters that the mission was expected to go to China during the first week of January to investigate the virus’ origins.
The United States, which has accused China of concealing the scale of the outbreak, has called for a “transparent” WHO-led investigation and criticized its terms, which allowed Chinese researchers to conduct the first phase of preliminary research.
Chinese state media have suggested that the virus was abroad before it was discovered in Wuhan, citing its presence on imported frozen food packaging and scientific documents claiming it had circulated in Europe last year.
Olowokure said the exact timing of the trip would depend on “getting results from some other tests performed initially”, without giving further details.
Referring to the ongoing discussions with China during the trip, Olowokure said: “These are obviously important to us and to get an overall picture of how the investigation will go.”
More than 72.92 million people have been reported infected with the new coronavirus globally and 1,641,733 have died, according to a Reuters figure.
Infections have been reported in more than 210 countries and territories since the first cases were identified in China in December 2019.