Report Slams China, W.H.O. for ‘Slow and Ineffective’ Coronavirus Response

BEIJING, CHINA - JANUARY 28: Tedros Adhanom, Director General of the World Health Organization, (L) shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping before a meeting at the Great Hall of the People, on January 28, 2020 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Naohiko Hatta - Pool/Getty Images)
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China and the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) were slow and ineffective in their response to the first stages of the coronavirus outbreak, an damning interim report released Tuesday concludes.

The Switzerland-based Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response said its evaluation of the start of the crisis in China “suggests that there was potential for early signs to have been acted on more rapidly.”

Containment measures should have been implemented immediately in all countries where transmission was likely, the 13-member panel said in their critical analysis, due to be presented to the W.H.O.’s executive board.

The first cases in Wuhan occurred in November last year, according to city authorities, who already stand accused of downplaying the infection rate.

The cases weren’t reported to W.H.O. until December 31. By the time Wuhan went under lockdown on January 23, 2020 the virus had already moved to Japan, South Korea, Thailand, and the United States.

That spread came after the W.H.O. promoted a Chinese claim via Twitter there was “no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission.”

It was not until January 22 that the W.H.O. admitted there was evidence of “person-to-person transmission,” adding that it was not “unexpected”:

The W.H.O. resisted calling the coronavirus a global health emergency until another week later, on January 30:

When U.S. President Donald Trump ordered travel restrictions from China that same day, W.H.O. Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus hit back by saying, “We oppose it.” He added: “This is the time for facts, not fear; for science, not rumors. This is the time for solidarity, not stigma.”

“There is no reason for measures that unnecessarily interfere with international travel and trade,” he said on February 2. Travel restrictions were not needed to stop the outbreak and could “have the effect of increasing fear and stigma, with little public health benefit,” he said.

All of which was too little, too late.

The panel said it was clear “public health measures could have been applied more forcefully by local and national health authorities in China in January.”

“It is not clear why the committee did not meet until the third week of January, nor is it clear why it was unable to agree on the (PHEIC) declaration… when it was first convened,” the report said, noting the reluctance of Tedros to say or do anything that might point to China’s bungled reponse or the W.H.O.’s own complicity:

Just over a year after the first cases of Covid-19 were detected in Wuhan, experts agree the official tally of over two million deaths and close to 100 million infections is an underestimate.

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, noting a “largely hidden epidemic” drove the global spread of disease.

AFP contributed to this report

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