World

WHO chief 'very disappointed' China still holding up Covid probe

ZURICH: The head of the World Health Organisation (WHO) said yesterday he was very disappointed that China still has not authorised the entry of a team of international experts to examine the origins of the coronavirus.

"Today, we learnt that Chinese officials have not yet finalised the necessary permissions for the team's arrival in China," WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told an online news conference in Geneva.

"I have been in contact with senior Chinese officials, and I have once again made it clear the mission is a priority for the WHO."

Members of the international team had set out on their journey to China, where the outbreak of the virus was first reported in the city of Wuhan, in the past 24 hours and were due to start working on Tuesday.

China has denied trying to cover up its association with the pandemic that emerged in late 2019, although some including US President Donald Trump have questioned Beijing's actions during the outbreak.

WHO's emergencies chief Mike Ryan said the agency had impressed on Chinese officials the mission's critical nature.

"We trust and hope that it is just a logistic and bureaucratic issue that can be resolved very quickly," Mr Ryan said.

"We trust in good faith that we can solve these issues in the coming hours."

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said the problem was "not just about visas" for the team.

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 is no need to over- interpret this," she added.

Meanwhile, WHO experts gave cautious backing on Tuesday to a move already taken by some countries to delay giving out the second jabs of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine.

Faced with limited supplies, Denmark and Britain have both said they would wait for longer than the recommended 21 to 28 days between jabs so they could focus on giving more people their first dose.

WHO's vaccine advisory group said the jabs could be administered a few weeks beyond the recommended 21-28 days in exceptional circumstances. However, there is no data confirming the efficacy of doing so. - REUTERS, AFP

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