Call for WHO probe into virus origin

WHO D-G Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus addressing members at the opening of the World Health Assembly in Geneva.   | Photo Credit: CHRISTOPHER BLACK

An India-backed draft resolution at the 73rd session of the World Health Assembly received a big boost on Monday when the African group of nations extended support for the motion which seeks global investigation into the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The development came soon after the Assembly convened in Geneva where the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that the global body will look into the lessons of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I will initiate an independent evaluation at the earliest appropriate moment to review experience gained and lessons learned to make recommendations to improve national and global pandemic preparedness and response,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General, WHO.

The assurance, however, is at variance from the draft resolution, which was earlier backed by WHO’s 62 countries and sought to identify scientific “events” that could have contributed to the spread of the novel coronavirus and the consequent COVID-19 pandemic. The recommendation is part of the text jointly conceived by Australia and the European Union. It aims to evaluate possible food and animal-related sources that could have led to the spread of the deadly pandemic. Informed sources said that given the growing number of co-sponsors, the likelihood of a vote on the motion was lessened. The language of the motion seeks to delve deep into the origin of the virus.

Also read: India among countries backing probe into scientific ‘events’ behind pandemic

“The Seventy-third World Health Assembly requests the Director General to ... identify the zoonotic source of the virus and the route of introduction to the human population, including the possible role of intermediate hosts, including through efforts such as scientific and collaborative field missions, which will enable targeted interventions and a research agenda to reduce the risk of similar events,” says the draft motion that The Hindu has seen.

‘Impartial evaluation’

The draft resolution also calls for “impartial, independent and comprehensive” evaluation into the “WHO-coordinated international health response” to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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The language of the resolution reflects the diplomatic tug of war that has taken place since the pandemic began in early 2019 . This tension was visible on Monday when Taiwan protested at not receiving a formal invite from the WHO Secretariat for the 73rd Assembly. Taiwan has, however, urged the WHO to discuss the multi-nation backed proposal. The group of countries led by Central America’s Belize also proposed a supplementary agenda item to invite Taiwan in the WHO as an observer. China has opposed the inclusion of Taiwan as a member at the WHO. At Monday’s meeting, Health Minister Dr. Harsh Vardhan presented the Indian perspective and said the preparation against the pandemic is being supervised by Prime Minister Narendra Modi personally.

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Among the co-sponsors of the proposal to seek global investigation into scientific “events” are Bangladesh, Japan, South Korea, U.K. and Turkey. The support extended to the move shows that all BRICS member countries but China have extended support to the language. The resolution does not mention China or Wuhan but it is understood to be influenced by the Australian line which called for seeking an explanation of the COVID-19 pandemic from China.

Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who earlier sought an international investigation, had drawn strong criticism from China, and because of the initial exchanges, the resolution is being interpreted as a move to fix accountability for the pandemic.

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Printable version | Sep 19, 2021 3:35:35 AM |

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