Editorial

What about WHO?: on failures of containment of COVID-19

In a bid to cover up his own failures in COVID-19 containment and limit the number of deaths in the country, U.S. President Donald Trump has been accusing China of “secrecy, deception and cover-up” in the outbreak and the World Health Organization of being “China-centric”. Mr. Trump could not have known it, but there is now evidence that WHO had not been fully transparent during the early stages of the outbreak in Wuhan, and China had indeed been more opaque than already known. If WHO gave an impression that on December 31 China had alerted it, the June 29 revised timeline of the world body clarifies the facts to a great degree. WHO’s country office in China had apparently been alerted by a media statement by the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission about cases of viral pneumonia. It got the same news from another independent source too. China confirmed to WHO of the cluster of cases of ‘viral pneumonia of unknown cause’ on January 3 only after the global body twice reached out to the Chinese authorities on January 1-2. Following the confirmation, WHO on January 4 tweeted to say, “China has reported to the WHO a cluster of pneumonia cases, with no deaths, in Wuhan, Hubei Province.…” Also, if the earlier timeline had mentioned that on December 31 a “novel coronavirus was eventually identified” as the cause of pneumonia cases, the revised information posted on the WHO website mentions that the cause of illness was not known till January 2, and China did not confirm novel coronavirus as the cause even on January 3 when it confirmed a cluster of pneumonia cases.

At least on three occasions, including on January 30 when the health emergency of international concern was declared, WHO had publicly praised China for its commitment to transparency. While it also said China was “setting a new standard for outbreak response” and called the quick sharing of whole genome sequence data of the virus as “very impressive”, independent investigation revealed a different situation — China was not very forthcoming. The world knew of human-to-human transmission in China only on January 20, and the global body was often kept in the dark. Scientific evidence strongly suggests that the outbreak began at least by early November. Apparently, WHO had to keep praising China so that it shared information. Surely, powerful nations cannot be allowed to endanger lives around the world by shirking responsibility. China has evidently refused to learn lessons from the disastrous handling of the 2002 SARS outbreak. The current pandemic continues to infect millions, killing more than 5,30,000, and destroying livelihoods and the world economy. At least some of the impact could have been lessened by more proactive action on the part of China, and by less reverential attitude on the part of WHO.


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Printable version | Oct 24, 2021 6:50:31 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/what-about-who-on-failures-of-containment-of-covid-19/article32006790.ece

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