WHO team headed to China as coronavirus cases climb

WHO team headed to China as coronavirus cases climb
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A team of international disease experts led by the World Health Organization (WHO) will arrive in China as early as this weekend to study the coronavirus, the agency said Friday.

But it’s unclear if the representatives of U.S. agencies will be among the team members.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the team will consist of 12 international and WHO experts, as well as a similar number of national expert counterparts from China. 

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“I’m glad to say that the WHO-led joint mission with China on COVID-19 is moving forward. We expect the full team to touch down over the weekend,” he said during a press briefing.

Ghebreyesus said they will stay as long as they are needed, depending on the scope of work. When asked for details on the team’s composition, he said the members of the mission are experts in their fields, but he did not elaborate.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar on Friday said U.S. experts are ready and willing to help. 

Azar said during an interview on CNN's "New Day" that he and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield first offered to send CDC experts into China on Jan. 6 — “1,300 deaths ago.”

Azar said they still don’t have final permission from China to enter the country. 

“The World Health Organization, we believe, has secured agreement to deploy a WHO team with our U.S. public health experts as part of that team. We are ready to go. And we are waiting for final clearance from the Chinese government to make that happen,” Azar said.

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Azar urged the Chinese government to allow the WHO team freedom to work.

“They have got to be able to work shoulder to shoulder with their Chinese scientific colleagues — looking at raw data, running the studies, looking at genetic sequences, doing the virology and epidemiology that is their mission — or it won’t be a useful mission,” he said.

The number of cases of the novel coronavirus continue to climb. In total, there have been 1,381 deaths in China, including 121 reported Friday. Chinese officials also disclosed more than 1,700 health workers have tested positive for the virus.