A probe into the full extent of China’s influence at WHO and the WHO’s tragic mishandling is fully warranted, but also fully challenged by the lack of information provided by the WHO and China.
Last week, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General, World Health Organisation (WHO), had stated at a global online media briefing that there has been a premature push to rule out that the virus might have escaped from Chinese government laboratory in Wuhan.
He further shockingly expressed that investigating the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic in China was being hampered by the lack of raw data on the first days of the spread in Wuhan and urged China to be transparent, open and to cooperate.
It is arguably the first-time since the onset of the global Covid-19 pandemic in the month of January last year that Dr Tedros has questioned the role of China and even opened up to a discussion on the theory that the coronavirus might have escaped from the Wuhan virology laboratory in China.
WHO POSTED CHINA’S CORONAVIRUS REPORT AS IS
On 6 April 2020, I questioned Dr Tedros. I had asked him, “On January 14th, 2020 W.H.O stated ‘Preliminary investigations conducted by the Chinese authorities have found no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission of the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) identified in Wuhan, China’. Why rely on China’s report?”
Dr Tedros replied, “The rule we have in WHO and other UN agencies is when a member state reports, we post the member state’s report as is. What we did on January 14th on Twitter is we posted China’s report as is. But when we post their reports on our Twitter or website or wherever we just put it as-is, we don’t change anything. But at the same time, if we have some differences with what is reported, we can say it. Before January 13th Dr Maria Van Kerhove and other colleagues were saying, there is a likelihood of human-to-human transmission. Even on January 14th Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove and other colleagues were briefing journalists and they said, there is a likelihood of human-to-human transmission. Our guidance reflected all that.”
CHANGING THE TIMELINES
The World Health Organisation (WHO) altered its timelines that it had officially published on 27 April 2020 to favour China in its revised timelines in June 2020. There are inaccuracies in their previous timeline, including how the WHO first became aware of the outbreak in Wuhan. The corrected entry for December 31, 2019 now reads:
WHO’s Country Office in the People’s Republic of China picked up a media statement by the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission from their website on cases of “viral pneumonia” in Wuhan, People’s Republic of China.
The Country Office notified the International Health Regulations (IHR) focal point in the WHO Western Pacific Regional Office about the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission’s media statement of the cases and provided a translation of it. WHO’s Epidemic Intelligence from Open Sources (EIOS) platform also picked up a media report on ProMED (a program of the International Society for Infectious Diseases) about the same cluster of cases of “pneumonia of unknown cause”, in Wuhan.
Several health authorities from around the world contacted WHO seeking additional information. It is interesting to note that this new timeline was issued six days after China used its media to respond to the interim version of this report. After fielding a question from China National Radio, Zhao Lijian, referenced above for spreading disinformation regarding the source of Covid-19 via Twitter, laid out a new timeline for the CCP’s response to Covid-19. In his comments, he conceded that the China engagement with the WHO began on 3 January.
This transparency was short-lived. In early July 2020, Zhao reverted back to the previous claim, stating, “On 31 December 2019, the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission released a statement on the situation of pneumonia in the city on its official website. China reported to the WHO at the earliest time possible. This fact cannot be clearer.”
WHO PUBLIC HEALTH EMERGENCY CALL
According to German Intelligence (BND), China had urged the World Health Organization to delay a global warning. On 21 January, China’s head of state Xi Jinping during a phone call with WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus asked to withhold information about a person-to-person transmission and to postpone a pandemic warning.
Interestingly, on 23 January 2020, Dr Tedros told the media, “I’m not declaring a Public Health Emergency of International Concern today. As it was yesterday, the Emergency Committee was divided over whether the outbreak of novel coronavirus represents a PHEIC or not. At this time, there is no evidence of human-to-human transmission outside China. But that doesn’t mean it won’t happen. There is still a lot we don’t know. We don’t know the source of this virus. We don’t understand how easily it spreads. And we don’t fully understand its clinical features or severity.”
On 23 April 2020, I had an opportunity to question Dr Tedros, yet again. I asked him: “If Dr Tedros had an opportunity, would he have called the coronavirus a pandemic earlier? Dr Tedros replied, “Based on the IHR 2005 what is expected from WHO is declaring the Public Health Emergency of International Concern as early as possible based on the factors, the highest emergency as far as International Health Regulations is concerned was declared on 30 January. That was declared based on expert opinion that was drawn from all over the world. So looking back I think we declared the Emergency at the right time and when the world had enough time to respond.”
SIX-WEEK DELAY: FROM PUBLIC HEALTH EMERGENCY TO PANDEMIC
On 30 January 2020, the IHR Emergency Committee arrived at a consensus and Dr Tedros declared the novel coronavirus as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. On 11 March 2020, Dr Tedros categorized the novel coronavirus as a “Pandemic”. He said, “Pandemic is not a word to use lightly or carelessly. It is a word that, if misused, can cause unreasonable fear, or unjustified acceptance that the fight is over, leading to unnecessary suffering and death.”
The categorization of Covid-19 as a pandemic came six weeks after the declaration of the Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). It was only after the categorization of the PHEIC as a pandemic, that 95 governments within the next three weeks initiated a partial or full lockdown in their countries.
Tarik Jasaveric, spokesperson, WHO, told me in an official communication, within the WHO, the highest level public health alert is the declaration of a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. “Pandemic” is not an alert level used by WHO under its emergency response framework and does not have any operational significance within WHO.
Strangely though, the 2013 Guidance followed by WHO it states the following: The global phases and their application in risk management are distinct from (1) the determination of a PHEIC under the IHR (2005); and (2) the declaration of a pandemic based on assessment of the risk associated with the emerging influenza virus. These are based upon specific assessments and can be used for communicating the need for collective global action, or by regulatory bodies and/or for legal or contractual agreements, should they be based on a determination of a PHEIC or a pandemic declaration.
DETERMINATION OF A PHEIC: The responsibility of determining a PHEIC lies with the WHO Director-General under Article 12 of the IHR (2005). The determination of a PHEIC leads to the communication of temporary recommendations.
DECLARATION OF A PANDEMIC: During the period of spread of human influenza caused by a new subtype, based on risk assessment and appropriate to the situation, the WHO Director-General may make a declaration of a pandemic.
‘VIRUS HAPPENED NATURALLY’
On 27 September 2020, Dr Tedros, when questioned that the Covid-19 pandemic came from China at the global media briefing, said, “The virus has happened naturally. If there is anything that will change this, it should come through the proper scientific process.”
Early last year, on China, Dr Tedros said, “I cannot say they hid or they didn’t. If something is hidden, the world would have witnessed more cases spilling outside its border, given how connected China is to the rest of the world. So it really defeats the logic.”
CHINA’S PUPPET, WHO
The WHO knew China was not fulfilling its duties under the IHR. “This is exactly the same scenario as SARS, endlessly trying to get updates from China about what was going on. WHO barely got out of that one with its neck intact given the issues that arose around transparency in southern China,” expressed Dr Michael Ryan, Executive Director of the WHO’s Health Emergencies Program.
An investigation into the full extent of China’s influence at the WHO and the WHO’s tragic mishandling is fully warranted, but also fully challenged by the lack of information provided by the WHO and China. A critical example of this surrounds the confirmation that SARS-CoV-2 was spreading by human-to-human transmission. On 14 January, the WHO issued a “disease outbreak news” release that stated, “based on the available information, there is no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission”.
On 21 January, China’s National Health Commission finally con-ceded that human-to-human transmission was occurring. The next day, the WHO published a report from its China field office that confirmed that human-to-human transmission was occurring. But on 13 April in a media briefing, WHO’s Covid-19 Technical Lead, Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, said: “Right from the start, from the first notification we received on the 31st of December, given that this was a cluster of pneumonia—I’m a MERS specialist, so my background is in coronaviruses and influenza—so immediately thought, given that this is a respiratory pathogen, that of course there may be human-to-human transmission.”
It appears that the WHO wilfully ignored their own experts, or they deferred continually to China’s pressure.
Savio Rodrigues is the founder and editor-in-chief of Goa Chronicle.