China has effectively blocked the World Health Organization from investigating the origins of the novel coronavirus, the New York Times reported on Monday.
The coronavirus was first reported to have originated at an animal market in Wuhan, China, however numerous observers have already questioned this account of the virus’s origins. Among other issues, the original host animal—a species of bat—was not sold at the particular animal market, and the city of Wuhan is home to virology labs where coronaviruses were studied.
While an investigation into the origins of the coronavirus could help prevent future pandemics, China is not allowing the W.H.O. to conduct an independent probe of the matter, according to internal documents and interviews by the Times.
Documents show that research on the first coronavirus patients and the outbreak at the animal market will be handled by Chinese scientists, with W.H.O. personnel set to “augment, rather than duplicate” that research. W.H.O. officials have also complained privately that China has not granted them full access to materials relevant to the probe, while outwardly praising China’s response to the pandemic.
“It was an absolute whitewash,” Lawrence O. Gostin, a professor of global health law at Georgetown University, told the Times regarding the agency’s investigation. “But the answer was, that was the best they could negotiate with Xi Jinping.”
The Trump administration has reacted furiously to China’s failure to prevent the coronavirus from spreading. President Trump has moved to cut U.S. funding to the W.H.O., blaming the organization for parroting Chinese propaganda regarding the country’s response.
The coronavirus has killed at least 1.2 million people worldwide and sickened over 46 million, with actual numbers for the sick and dead likely higher due to underreporting.