The United Nations agency said that two officials travelled to China to lay the groundwork for an international investigation. But the pair did not go to the city of Wuhan, where COVID-19 was first detected late last year before spreading across the globe.
Dave Sharma, an Australian MP, said the move was “disturbing”.
He told the Financial Times: “It is another disturbing incident of the WHO – which is charged with safeguarding global public health – putting the political sensitivities of a member state above the public health interests of the world”.
Australia was at the forefront of a group of nations who called for an international inquiry into the origins of the virus.
US President Donald Trump has also been highly critical of the WHO’s handling of the pandemic.
The Republican leader accused the WHO of being a “puppet of China”.
The WHO said the recent visit to China had been successfully completed.
It said it would in due course issue a call asking all member states to propose experts for the mission.
Once selected, the team is expected to touch down in China later this year.
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Scientists at the Wuhan Institute of Virology also spoke with the investigators.
On Thursday the WHO reiterated its advice that resources permitting, people exposed to the novel coronavirus should be tested even if they do not show immediate symptoms of infection.
The comments come after the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said this week that people exposed to COVID-19 but not symptomatic may not need to be tested.
The CDC’s comments surprised doctors and politicians and prompted accusations the guidance was politically motivated.
Maria Van Kerkhove, a WHO epidemiologist, said the UN agency recommended suspected cases and their contacts be tested, if possible.
But she said the focus should be on people displaying signs of infection.
She said: “Our recommendations are to test suspect cases, and we have definitions for those.
“We have definitions of contacts, and who contacts are of confirmed cases, and make recommendations that contacts, if feasible, should be tested regardless of the development of symptoms.
“The focus, though, is on those that do develop symptoms.”