United States and China clash at World Health Organization over scientific mission in Wuhan

19 Janvier, 2021, 18:36 | Auteur: Anatole Charbonneau
  • Medical staff in protective suits attend to patients at Wuhan Fang Cang makeshift hospital in Wuhan Hubei Province China

The panel, set up to investigate the global response to the coronavirus, said the World Health Organization is under-powered, under-funded and required fundamental reform to give it the resources it needs to respond more effectively to deadly disease outbreaks.

"Geopolitical tensions have impacted on the response, and the resulting pandemic has given us many interlinked reasons to rethink and reset the way in which the worldwide system and countries prepare and respond to global health threats", Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, co-chair of the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response, said in the report issued late Monday.

The panel also cited evidence of cases in other countries in late January, saying public health containment measures should have been put in place immediately in any country with a likely case.

The Panel's report, available in six United Nations official languages, will be discussed at the on-going World Health Organization (WHO) Executive Board meeting.

China largely brought the virus under control in the months after it first surfaced, but the pandemic beyond its borders has killed millions and wreaked economic havoc.

The Panel said even when the WHO declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern in January 2020, the loudest alarm possible under the International Health Regulations, many countries took minimal action internally and internationally to prevent the spread of Covid-19. The U.N. health agency convened its emergency committee January 22, 2020, but did not characterize the emerging pandemic as an worldwide emergency until a week later.

The experts also wondered why the WHO did not declare a global public health emergency - its highest warning for outbreaks - sooner.

Outgoing US President Donald Trump accused the organisation of botching its handling of the pandemic and of being a "puppet of China".

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The panel, led by former New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark and former Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, began its work in July after World Health Organization member states called for an "impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation" of its response to the pandemic.

And according to the panel report, the case numbers have been undercounted from the start.

"In retrospect, it is clear that the volume of infections in the early period of the epidemic in all countries was higher than reported", it said.

It also found that the worldwide system for alert and response is not fit for goal.

As the coronavirus began spreading across the globe, WHO's top experts disputed how infectious the virus was, saying it was not as contagious as flu and that people without symptoms only rarely spread the virus.

But the panel hinted countries may have taken the situation more seriously if the word had been used, stressing it serves "to focus attention on the gravity of a health event".

Beijing has also cast doubts on whether Covid-19 originated in Wuhan while silencing critics, including citizen journalist Zhang Zhan who was jailed for four years for reporting on conditions inside Wuhan at the height of the outbreak.



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