US says WHO China mission to probe coronavirus origin lacks transparency
- UN health agency accused of not sharing enough information with member states about criteria for investigation
- Independent panel is evaluating the organisation’s management of global response to the pandemic
Speaking via video link during a week-long meeting of the UN health agency’s member countries, Garrett Grisby from the US Department of Health and Human Services said on Tuesday the criteria for the mission had not been shared with other nations.
“The (terms of reference) were not negotiated in a transparent way with all WHO member states,” he said. “Understanding the origins of Covid-19 through a transparent and inclusive investigation is what must be done.”
In recent months, a long-planned WHO-led team investigation into the animal origins of the virus in China has stalled. Although pandemic travel restrictions and the focus on stemming the overwhelming number of new Covid-19 cases have complicated matters, some scientists worry that China has still not provided key details about what research is ongoing.
The US objections came as an independent panel commissioned by the WHO to evaluate its management of the global Covid-19 response said it was considering whether the agency had enough power and financing to stop future pandemics.
Co-chair of the panel Helen Clark, former New Zealand prime minister, said the group was especially interested in establishing an accurate chronology of the very first coronavirus alerts and what responses were taken.
“The independent panel will do its best to shed light on what has happened, is still happening and why,” she said. “We are asking whether WHO has the right mandate, the right powers, the right capacities and the right financing to deliver on pandemic preparedness and response.”
Critics, including US president Donald Trump, have slammed the WHO for allegedly colluding with China to hide the extent of the initial coronavirus outbreak. Earlier this year, it was reported that senior Chinese officials did not warn the public about the pandemic threat of coronavirus for six days and that they stalled on sharing the virus’ genetic sequence and other key data with WHO experts.
Clark said the panel would also review “how well the World Health Organization and the international system at large have been able to deliver on country needs and expectations.”
Clark has shied away from criticising the WHO or member states like China for their Covid-19 efforts.
Last month, Germany and France led a call from European Union countries arguing the WHO should have more powers to independently investigate outbreaks in countries and that their funding should be boosted.
Earlier this year, the Trump administration halted US funding for the WHO and vowed to pull the United States – its biggest single donor – out of the agency by next summer. President-elect Joe Biden has said he plans to keep the US in the organisation.
The WHO meeting finishes on Saturday. So far the world has seen more than 50 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 1.26 million deaths, but experts say all numbers understate the pandemic’s true toll.