The World Health Organization (WHO) team for investigating the origins of Covid-19 in the city of Wuhan has been denied entry to China.
Two members were already on the way, the WHO said the problem was the lack of visa approval.
However, China has challenged this, saying the details of the trip are still being prepared, including dates.
The Investigative Visit
The expected investigation was agreed upon by Beijing after months of negotiations with the WHO.
The virus was first discovered in Wuhan in late 2019, with the first outbreak linked to the market.
WHO chief executive Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he was “deeply disappointed” that China had not yet finalized the group’s travel permits “as two members have already begun their journey and some have not been able to travel at the last minute”.
“I am convinced that China is accelerating the internal process for the first time,” he told reporters in Geneva on Tuesday, explaining that he had been in contact with top Chinese officials to emphasize “this work is very important for the WHO and the international community”.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told the BBC that “there may be some misunderstanding” and “there is no need to learn much about it”.
“Chinese authorities are in close co-operation with WHO but there has been some minor outbreaks in multiple places around the world and many countries and regions are busy in their work preventing the virus and we are also working on this,” she said.
“Nevertheless, we support international co-operation and are advancing internal arrangements. We are in contact with the WHO and to the best of my knowledge the dates and arrangements are still in progress.”
The WHO has sent a team of 10 foreign specialists to China to investigate the animal origin of the pandemic and how the virus began to spread to humans.
Last month it was announced that the investigation would begin in January 2021.
Two members of the international team who had already left for China left on Tuesday morning, the WHO said. According to Reuters news agency, WHO chief emergency officer Mike Ryan said one was back and the other was in a third country.
Covid-19 was first discovered in the Chinese city of Wuhan in central Hubei province in late 2019.
It was initially believed the virus originated in a market selling exotic animals for meat. It was suggested that this was where the virus made the leap from animals to humans.
But the origin of the virus is often strongly opposed. Some experts now believe that the market may not have been original, and that it was only expanded there.
Some studies have suggested that coronaviruses that can infect humans may have been around for decades without being detected by bats. It is not yet known which intermediate animal transmits the virus between bats and humans.