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In the context of Trump's administration decision to suspend the funding of the WHO (pending a review), the BBC has this narrative:

"Had the WHO done its job to get medical experts into China to objectively assess the situation on the ground and to call out China's lack of transparency, the outbreak could have been contained at its source with very little death," [Trump] told reporters. [...]

But WHO experts were only allowed to visit China and investigate the outbreak on 10 February, by which time the country had more than 40,000 cases.

(Actually, as pointed out in a comment below, there was an earlier mission on Jan 20-21, which that BBC article didn't seem to mention.) Anyhow...

What does the public record say about when WHO requested access to Wuhan/China to investigate the outbreak there (later known as COVID-19)?

(I'll also accept [in re another comment below] an answer that no public request was made before [either] visit/mission, if that's the case. There's another BBC article in which some commentators suggest that all such requests [for China to open up] were probably made "privately" by WHO.)

  • Are you sure there actually is a public record on that? – Denis de Bernardy Apr 15 at 19:01
  • @DenisdeBernardy: True there might not be one. Which would be a fine answer too, indicating that all requests were made "behind closed doors". Re 2nd point: "interesting" that the BBC didn't mention that one. I guess it means their article had more than one lacunae. – Fizz Apr 15 at 19:03
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    I don’t know why this got downvoted. But downvoting for citing a reputable news source which turned out to have an inaccuracy would be somewhat unfair. – Andrew Grimm May 16 at 22:07
  • @AndrewGrimm: even more interesting, it's possible the spy agencies were listening in on the WHO (which probably doesn't have amazing security); so we might have some interesting "leaks" on that, although what came out insofar in that area was rather underwhelming in terms accuracy/confirmation... skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/47608/… – Fizz May 16 at 22:20
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I don't think we can know when they first requested access, but it definitely was not February 10th, since they visited Whuan in January.

According to this official "Mission Summary" (found by Denis de Bernardy), the WHO conducted a field visit to Wuhan on January 20-21 where they identified and reported evidence of human-to-human transmission of the virus in China:

The delegation visited the Wuhan Tianhe Airport, Zhongnan hospital, Hubei provincial CDC, including the BSL3 laboratory in China’s Center for Disease Control (CDC). The delegation observed and discussed active surveillance processes, temperature screening at the airport, laboratory facilities, infection prevention and control measures at the hospital and its associated fever clinics, and the deployment of the rRT-PCR test kit to detect the virus.

Data collected through detailed epidemiological investigation and through the deployment of the new test kit nationally suggests that human-to-human transmission is taking place in Wuhan. More analysis of the epidemiological data is needed to understand the full extent of human-to-human transmission. WHO stands ready to provide support to China to conduct further detailed analysis.

Mission summary: WHO Field Visit to Wuhan, China 20-21 January 2020 - Published: 22 January 2020

So claims that WHO was only allowed to visit China in February are false, though the February visit was likely a more in-depth investigation than the January 20th visit. At the same time, claims that they covered up human-to-human transmission, or were barred from reporting it by China, are also false.


This is different from their January 9th statement, where they reported based on data provided by Chinese public health officials. In that statement, they express a willingness to visit to "investigate and respond", but don't say whether they've placed an official request:

In the coming weeks, more comprehensive information is required to understand the current status and epidemiology of the outbreak, and the clinical picture. Further investigations are also required to determine the source, modes of transmission, extent of infection and countermeasures implemented. WHO continues to monitor the situation closely and, together with its partners, is ready to provide technical support to China to investigate and respond to this outbreak.

WHO Statement regarding cluster of pneumonia cases in Wuhan, China - Published: 9 January 2020

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    Eh? the question already incorporates that info on Jan 20-21 (and it did so for hours). I'm not seeing how the rest of the info is relevant to what I'm asking... – Fizz Apr 15 at 21:52
  • @Fizz Ah, you're right, I saw it in Denis's comment, but missed it in the question. While the answer is probably targeted more at Sjoerd's comment, it is relevant to the question, I think, because of the suspicion that some have expressed that this wasn't a real investigation, and they were just assisting in some Chinese coverup – divibisan Apr 15 at 21:57
  • Yeah, that was my impression too. He actually even tried to change the question a bit to fit Trump's rhetoric, but I've edited that out (it was only live for a couple of minutes). – Fizz Apr 15 at 21:59

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