KUALA LUMPUR, May 20 — The World Health Organization (WHO) has agreed to members’ demand to launch an independent investigation into its international response towards the coronavirus pandemic.
WHO’s international response to Covid-19 is said to have been clouded by finger-pointing between the United States (US) and China over the pandemic that has killed over 300,000 people and heavily affected the global economy, as cited by TIME.
A union of African, European, and other countries requested the “comprehensive evaluation” with the intention to review the “lessons learned” from WHO’s management of the global response to Covid-19.
However, it would not probe controversial issues related to the origin of the novel coronavirus. US President Donald Trump has claimed that he has proof that the coronavirus originated from a Chinese lab, while the scientific community insisted that all evidence to date has shown the virus likely transmitted from animals to humans.
Last Monday, Trump criticised WHO for having done “a very sad job” and contemplated whether he should cut annual US funding to the United Nations health agency from $450 million per year to $40 million.
“They gave us a lot of bad advice, terrible advice. They were wrong so much, always on the side of China,” said Trump.
Later that Monday, Trump tweeted a letter that he had sent to WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, stating that “the only way forward (is if WHO) can actually demonstrate independence from China.”
He further added that he would make a temporary suspension of US funding to WHO, unless the organisation commits to “substantive improvements over the next 30 days.”
TIME reported that WHO’s World Health Assembly this week was overshadowed by mutual reproaches and political criticism between the US and China, as Trump constantly attacked WHO, claiming that it aided China in concealing the extent of the Covid-19 pandemic in its early stage. Several Republican politicians have also called for Tedros’ resignation.
US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said on Monday that it was time to be truthful about the reason why Covid-19 has “spun out of control.”
“There was a failure by this organization to obtain the information that the world needed, and that failure cost many lives,” said Azar.
He further added that the US had contributed $9 billion to Covid-19 containment efforts around the world. Chinese President Xi Jinping had previously announced that China would contribute $2 billion to help respond to the outbreak and its economic fallout, as cited by TIME.
Other world leaders, including the presidents of France, South Korea, and South Africa and Germany’s chancellors also collectively threw in their support for the WHO, which has been put on the defensive from a Trump administration that accused the organisation of mishandling the coronavirus outbreak and for excessively praising China’s response to the pandemic. The European Union and others had decided to observe from a neutral stance.
The Trump administration also claimed that WHO criticised a US travel ban that Trump ordered on those arriving from China.
Trump ordered a temporary suspension of funding for the WHO from the US, which is the agency’s largest single donor, pending a review of its early response. The advisory body, echoing remarks from many countries, stated that such a review during the “heat of the response” could negatively affect WHO’s ability to respond to it.
Xi said that China supports the notion of a comprehensive review of the global response towards the coronavirus, and that it should be “based on science and professionalism led by WHO, and conducted in an objective and impartial manner,” as reported by TIME.
Tedros stressed that WHO declared the Covid-19 outbreak to be a global health emergency on January 30, which is the organisation’s highest level of alert, at a time when 100 cases of the coronavirus were reported outside of China. In the following weeks, WHO warned countries that there was a “narrowing window of opportunity” to prevent the virus from spreading globally.
In the early months of the Covid-19 outbreak, WHO officials had continually defined the virus’s spread as “limited”, saying that its transmissibility was lower than that of the flu. Experts later said that the novel coronavirus spreads even faster than the flu.
WHO declared the Covid-19 outbreak to be a pandemic on March 11, after the virus had reportedly caused thousands of deaths globally, and also led to large-scale epidemics in South Korea, Italy, Iran, and more.