Beijing must come clean

WHO must maintain transparency about the dissemination of information on the virus

AuthorPublished: 19th May 2020  12:00 amUpdated: 18th May 2020  7:30 pm

The campaign against China has gained momentum with India backing the calls to launch an impartial investigation to ascertain how the novel coronavirus was transmitted and to evaluate the World Health Organisation’s response to the pandemic. A coalition of 100 nations, including the European Union, Australia, Russia, Japan, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Indonesia and Turkey, is pressing for a probe in the wake of growing international criticism against Beijing for its handling of the deadly outbreak. A draft resolution has been proposed to be moved at the WHO’s annual meeting. India’s decision to join the chorus marks the first such occasion for the country to articulate its stand on the controversial issue. The novel coronavirus was first detected in central China’s Wuhan city late last year. The disease has since spread across the world, claiming over three lakh lives and devastating the global economy. China has been accused of concealing information about the virus in the early days of the outbreak and there are also conspiratorial claims that the pathogen had originated in a laboratory at Wuhan. The irrepressible United States President Donald Trump derisively describes the coronavirus as “China virus”. The WHO has also been dragged into the muddle with its director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus being blamed for playing along with China till the virus spread rapidly. A former Ethopian minister, Ghebreyesus was elected to the post with support from China in 2017. The Trump administration has been personally targeting him, leading to suspension of American funding to the global health body.

Covid-19 is widely-acknowledged as the worst crisis since the Second World War. It is, therefore, essential for the WHO to maintain complete transparency and accountability about the dissemination of information pertaining to the spread of the disease. The resolution, signed by India, has asked the WHO director-general to work with the World Organisation for Animal Health to conduct scientific and collaborative field missions and identify the zoonotic source of the virus and the route of introduction to the human population, including the possible role of intermediate hosts. In the early days of the outbreak, the WHO appeared to ignore the warnings of Taiwanese health officials that the disease could be transmitted between humans, slowing the global response to the threat. Instead, in mid-January, the organisation issued a now-infamous endorsement of China’s finding that there was no human-to-human transmission of the coronavirus in Wuhan. The UN health body continued to praise China’s handling of the virus throughout January, despite abundant evidence that authorities were covering up the severity of the situation in Wuhan. There is no reason why China should be reluctant to allow an independent and impartial international evaluation of the origin and spread of the virus.

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