U.S. President Donald Trump has claimed he has proof suggesting the coronavirus originated in a lab in China, in a May 18, 2020 story. (Photo by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)

WHO bows to calls from countries for independent virus probe

Finger-pointing between the U.S. and China

GENEVA — The World Health Organization bowed to calls Monday from most of its member states to launch an independent probe into how it managed the international response to the coronavirus, which has been clouded by finger-pointing between the U.S. and China over a pandemic that has killed over 300,000 people and levelled the global economy.

The “comprehensive evaluation,” sought by a coalition of African, European and other countries, is intended to review “lessons learned” from WHO’s co-ordination of the global response to COVID-19, but would stop short of looking into contentious issues such as the origins of the new coronavirus. U.S. President Donald Trump has claimed he has proof suggesting the coronavirus originated in a lab in China while the scientific community has insisted all evidence to date shows the virus likely jumped into humans from animals.

In Washington on Monday, Trump faulted WHO for having done “a very sad job” and said he was considering whether to cut the annual U.S. funding from $450 million a year to $40 million.

“They gave us a lot of bad advice, terrible advice,” he said. “They were wrong so much, always on the side of China.”

Later Monday, Trump tweeted a letter he had sent WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. In the letter, Trump said “the only way forward” is if WHO “can actually demonstrate independence from China.”

Trump said that unless WHO commits to “substantive improvements over the next 30 days,” he will make a temporary suspension of U.S. funding permanent.

WHO’s normally bureaucratic annual assembly this week has been overshadowed by mutual recriminations and political sniping between the U.S. and China. Trump has repeatedly attacked WHO, claiming that it helped China conceal the extent of the coronavirus pandemic in its early stages. Several Republican lawmakers have called on Tedros to resign.

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Monday it was time to be frank about why COVID-19 has “spun out of control.”

“There was a failure by this organization to obtain the information that the world needed and that failure cost many lives,” Azar said. Speaking hours after Chinese President Xi Jinping announced China would provide $2 billion to help respond to the outbreak and its economic fallout, Azar said the U.S. had allocated $9 billion to coronavirus containment efforts around the world.

Tedros said he would launch an independent evaluation of WHO’s response “at the earliest appropriate moment” — alluding to findings published Monday in a first report by an oversight advisory body commissioned to look into WHO’s response.

The 11-page report raised questions such as whether WHO’s warning system for alerting the world to outbreaks is adequate, and suggested member states might need to “reassess” WHO’s role in providing travel advice to countries.

In his opening remarks at the WHO meeting, Tedros held firm and sought to focus on the bigger troubles posed by the outbreak, saying “we have been humbled by this very small microbe.”

“This contagion exposes the fault lines, inequalities, injustices and contradictions of our modern world,” Tedros said. “And geopolitical divisions have been thrown into sharp relief.”

China, meanwhile, sought to divert attention to its renewed efforts to slow the coronavirus pandemic, with Xi announcing the $2 billion outlay over two years to fight it. Last year, China donated about $86 million to WHO.

U.S. National Security Council spokesman John Ullyot characterized China’s newly announced contribution as “a token to distract from calls from a growing number of nations demanding accountability for the Chinese government’s failure to meet its obligations.” He said that since China was “the source” of the outbreak, it had “a special responsibility to pay more and give more.”

Xi insisted that China had acted with “openness, transparency and responsibility” when the epidemic was detected in Wuhan. He said China had give all relevant outbreak data to WHO and other countries, including the virus’s genetic sequence, “in a most timely fashion.”

Xi said that in recent weeks, China has dispatched medical supplies to more than 50 African countries and that 46 Chinese medical teams were currently on the continent helping local officials.

Other world leaders including the presidents of France, South Korea and South Africa and Germany’s chancellor were also piped in to throw their support to the WHO, which has been put on the defensive from a Trump administration that has blamed it for mishandling the outbreak and showering excessive praise on China’s response. The European Union and others staked out a middle ground.

The Trump administration has claimed that WHO criticized a U.S. travel ban that Trump ordered on people arriving from China.

Trump ordered a temporary suspension of funding for WHO from the United States — the health agency’s biggest single donor — pending a review of its early response. The advisory body, echoing comments from many countries, said such a review during the “heat of the response” could hurt WHO’s ability to respond to it.

Xi said China supports the idea of a comprehensive review of the global response to COVID-19 and that it should be “based on science and professionalism led by WHO, and conducted in an objective and impartial manner.”

Tedros emphasized that WHO declared the coronavirus outbreak to be a global health emergency on Jan. 30, its highest level of alert, at a time when there were fewer than 100 cases outside of China. In the following weeks, WHO warned countries there was a narrowing “window of opportunity” to prevent the virus from spreading globally.

During the first few months of the outbreak, WHO officials repeatedly described the virus’s spread as “limited” and said it wasn’t as transmissible as flu; experts have since said COVID-19 spreads even faster. It declared the outbreak to be a pandemic on March 11, after the virus had killed thousands globally and sparked large epidemics in South Korea, Italy, Iran and elsewhere.

By The Associated Press

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

There were 410 COVID-19 cases recorded in Alberta Wednesday. (File photo)
Alberta records 410 COVID-19 cases Wednesday

Central zone dropped to 160 active cases

Shaun Isaac, owner of Woodchucker Firewood in Trochu, is awaiting a new shipment during a firewood shortage in the province. All of the wood he has left is being saved for long-time customers who need it to heat their homes. (Contributed photo).
Firewood shortage in central Alberta caused by rising demand, gaps in supply

‘I’ve said “No” to more people than ever’: firewood seller

file photo
Maskwacis RCMP investigate pedestrian fatality

Collision on Highway 2A causing fatality still under investigation.

Shaela Dansereau/ The Pipestone Flyer
City of Wetaskiwin cases rapidly climbing

City of Wetaskiwin reporting 11 active cases of COVID-19

Royal Alexandra Hospital front-line workers walk a picket line after walking off the job in a wildcat strike in Edmonton, on Monday, October 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta labour board orders health-care staff who walked off the job to go back to work

Finance Minister Travis Toews said in a news release that he was pleased with the labour board’s decision

Husky Energy logo is shown at the company’s annual meeting in Calgary on May 5, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Husky pipeline spills 900,000 litres of produced water in northwestern Alberta

The energy regulator says environmental contractors are at the site

A raccoon paid a visit to a Toronto Tim Hortons on Oct. 22, 2020. (shecallsmedrew/Twitter)
Who are you calling a trash panda? Raccoon takes a shift at Toronto Tim Hortons

Tim Hortons said animal control was called as soon they saw the surprise visitor

Sharon Hickin, general manager of the Days Inn Sylvan Lake and the new Lake House Diner, poses for a photo outside the new restaurant. Photo by Megan Roth/Sylvan Lake News
Pandemic puts extra hurdles in place for new Sylvan Lake businesses

Over the past seven months numerous new businesses have opened in Sylvan Lake, despite the pandemic

Rachel Notley, leader of Alberta’s official Opposition, speaks in Edmonton on Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2019. Notley says the government needs to sharply ramp up the number of contact tracers if it wants to get a handle on the rising number of COVID-19 cases. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta Opposition calls for more COVID-19 contact tracers as case numbers rise

Alberta has about 800 tracers, and chief medical health officer Dr. Hinshaw says more are being recruited

Royal Alexandra Hospital front-line workers walk a picket line after walking off the job in a wildcat strike in Edmonton, on Monday, October 26, 2020. Hospital and health-care workers who staged a one-day illegal walkout returned to work Tuesday while politicians swapped recriminations and accusations in the house over the dispute. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta health staff return to work, surgeries resume after one-day walkout

AHS estimated 157 non-emergency surgeries, most of them in Edmonton, had to be postponed as a result of the walkout

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau makes his way to provide an update on the COVID pandemic in Ottawa on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. Canada has reached a grim milestone in the COVID-19 pandemic, surpassing 10,000 novel coronavirus deaths. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Alberta COVID deaths pushes Canada past milestone of 10,000 deaths

Canada crossed the threshold of 5,000 deaths on May 12, a little over two months after the first was reported

Cases in Ponoka (East Ponoka County) as of Oct. 27. (alberta.ca)
Diagnosed cases of COVID-19 at three Ponoka businesses

Town ‘strongly encouraging’ residents to wear non-medical masks in public

Most Read