Coronavirus: China refused World Health Organization requests to take part in COVID-19 investigation - representative

The World Health Organization (WHO) has been refused an invitation to take part in a Chinese investigation into the origins of COVID-19, a representative says.

Cases of COVID-19, the deadly respiratory illness caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, first came onto Chinese health officials' radar in December, with the WHO being alerted to what was then considered cases of pneumonia with an unknown cause on December 31. 

The virus has now spread across the globe, infecting about 3.3 million people and killing more than 230,000.

While it's widely believed the virus first came from a bat and jumped to humans via an intermediary animal, multiple world leaders have called for an inquiry into the virus' origins and if China reacted quickly enough to it. 

Sky News spoke to Dr Gauden Galea, the WHO's representative in China, on Thursday (UK time) who reports China refused requests by WHO officials to participate in an investigation. 

"We know that some national investigation is happening but, at this stage, we have not been invited to join," Dr Galea was quoted as saying.

"WHO is making requests of the health commission and of the authorities… The origins of virus are very important, the animal-human interface is extremely important and needs to be studied.

He said it was crucial to know "as much as possible" in order to prevent a "reoccurrence". When asked by Sky News whether there was a good reason for the WHO to not be included in the investigation, Dr Galea said: "From our point of view, no".

Several conspiracy theories have emerged over the last few months about the virus, including that it was a bioengineered weapon, something experts have repeatedly rejected

The theory that the virus was engineered or that it may have been unwittingly taken out of a laboratory and accidentally let loose developed due to the proximity of two laboratories working with viruses to a wet market. The first reported COVID-19 patients are understood to have become infected at the market.

Dr Galea told Sky News that while WHO was confident the virus was "naturally occurring", the laboratory's logs would need to be "part of any full report, any full look at the story of the origins". So far, WHO has not been able to investigate the logs, he said.

The WHO representative also said China would have to explain why no new cases of COVID-19 were reported in the country for a significant period of time in early January.

Among those who have suggested China knows more than its letting on about the virus is US President Donald Trump, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who said the more transparent China is, the better

Trump has withdrawn funding from the WHO over concerns about its transparency and for placing too much trust in China. 

The Associated Press reported earlier this month that China was aware of the virus' seriousness and the possibility of human-to-human transmission days before warning citizens.

But China maintains it acted swiftly to deal with the virus and has been transparent with both the WHO and other countries.

Australia's Foreign Minister Marise Payne has been one of the strongest advocates for a global inquiry into the virus, saying mid-April that Australia would "insist" on one. However, China took offence to that, saying Australia was just parroting the views of the United States, while France, Britain and the European Union said an inquiry could come later, not now.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has expressed interest in looking into how the pandemic occurred, but hasn't specifically singled out reviewing China's role. She also signalled an inquiry should happen once the pandemic was over.

"There have been politicians around the world who have said, 'Look, in the aftermath of this, we do need to look at what happened and whether or not there are areas we could as a global community improve our response'," she explained last week.

"I think that's common sense. Of course, we want to make sure we learn from what has been a global pandemic that has shaken the globe in a way that none other has for many decades.

"We need to learn from it, and I think of course New Zealand would be very, very open to making sure that, if there is something like this in the future, we have the best response as a globe that we possibly could."

Foreign Minister Winston Peters said on Tuesday that he trusted China wouldn't punish New Zealand for taking part in an inquiry. 

"It is very hard to conceive, no matter what country it is, of there not being a desire from every country around the world - including the country of origin - for an investigation to find out how this happened," he said.

"I'm not worried about [potential ramifications] because China has promised me they don't behave that way."