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World Health Organization to set up independent inquiry into COVID-19 pandemic

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Posted: Friday, May 22, 2020. 8:54 am CST.

By Aaron Humes: With more than 4.5 million infected and 300 thousand dead, the COVID-19 pandemic is among the deadliest events in modern human history.

And of even greater import than how to treat and stamp it out is to find out how it started in the first place.

Following the World Health Assembly this week, a virtual meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, members of the World Health Organization (WHO) have agreed unanimously to set up an independent inquiry into the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the BBC.

The European Union (EU), supported by the United States, United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand presented the resolution calling for an “impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation” of the international response, asking for focus on the WHO’s “timelines pertaining to the Covid-19 pandemic” after charges that it was late to declare a health emergency.

The United States has already charged that the organization is a “puppet” of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and suspended its share of donations, the largest on record.

U.S. Health Secretary Alex Azar told the assembly on Monday: “We must be frank about one of the primary reasons this outbreak spun out of control: there was a failure by this organisation to obtain the information that the world needed, and that failure cost many lives.”

America has also accused China of trying to cover up the outbreak – something it strongly rejects – and said the WHO had failed to hold Beijing to account.

The first COVID-19 cases emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan last December. The virus was widely reported to have sprung from a food market after crossing the species barrier from animals to humans.

China was accused of trying to cover up the infections in the early weeks. Some senior US politicians have suggested that the source was a laboratory in Wuhan that had been carrying out research on bat coronaviruses. China has dismissed the idea, and Western experts have cast doubt too.

China says it has been frank about the development of the epidemic in China, publishing the genetic code of the virus in January and being quick to share information with the WHO. President Xi Jinping told the assembly on Monday that his country had acted “with openness and transparency” and insisted that any investigation should happen after the pandemic was brought under control.

Foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a press briefing in Beijing on Tuesday that the US was trying to smear China in order to avoid its own responsibilities, something with which his critics at home agree. The U.S. has the highest number of both confirmed cases and deaths, which have passed 90,000.

EU spokeswoman Virginie Battu-Henriksson said that several key questions needed to be answered as part of any review.

“How did this pandemic spread? What is the epidemiology behind it? All this is absolutely crucial for us going forward to avoid another pandemic of this kind,” she said.

But she added that now was not the time for “any sort of blame game”.

The resolution also calls for the world to ensure “transparent, equitable and timely access” to any treatments or vaccines, and pushes for the WHO to investigate the “source of the virus and the route of introduction to the human population.”

WHO head, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus had already agreed to a review of the agency’s handling of the pandemic, while dismissing suggestions it needed a far-reaching overhaul.

He said an independent evaluation, which would look at what lessons could be learned and put forward any recommendations, would take place “at the earliest opportunity.”

 

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