Covid-19. International pressure at the WHO annual meeting to investigate response to the new coronavirus

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Envoys from the Organization’s 194 member states will meet virtually this Monday and Tuesday for the 73rd annual meeting of that United Nations body. Every year, countries meet to analyze WHO’s work and set priorities. This year, the organization’s worldwide role is unprecedented, as is the climate of criticism that surrounds it for responding to a pandemic that has killed more than 300,000 people worldwide.

Influential states, such as the United States, have been criticizing the slow reaction of WHO, with biased information towards China. The USA even withdrew contributions to the World Health Organization. Over the weekend, Trump admitted he could contribute again to the agency.
What is certain is that a document supported by 122 countries, including the European Union and the African Group, as well as the United Kingdom, Russia, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, has already entered the WHO meeting for a systemic review of the global response to the pandemic..

The document proposes the beginning of an “impartial, independent and exhaustive evaluation process (…) to review the experience gained and the lessons learned from the international response to covid-19 coordinated by WHO”.

The document considers that the response to the pandemic must be global, with
effective, equitable and timely access to technology and products
needed.

The draft does not directly mention China or the city of Wuhan – where the pandemic started – but urges the international community to identify the “zoonotic origin of the virus and the route of introduction into the human population, including the possible role of intermediate hosts, including scientific efforts or collaborative field missions ”. WHO is expected to be under fire these days. Despite this, European Union spokeswoman Virginie Battu-Henriksson warned that it was no longer the “blame game” but warned that crucial questions about the spread of the virus were needed.

WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris said that these moments are always an assessment of the organization, but that the focus will remain on responding to the pandemic.

On the other hand, calls should also be heard for WHO to have more powers, for example to enter countries for investigations and to conduct independent investigations.

This United Nations agency is a recommendation body and has no power to force countries to share information. Countries must notify WHO of emerging diseases in their countries as part of international health regulations. Reinforced powers should be suggested in the future.
China defends itself

Requests for an international investigation into the origins of Covid-19 have been seen by Beijing as an attempt to blame the pandemic. When Australia suggested the global investigation last month, China responded by saying it was “firmly against it”. “Since the outbreak began, China has always acted in an open, transparent and accountable manner and has taken several resolute and timely measures”, considered Geng Shuang, Foreign Affairs spokesman.

In the face of international support for an investigation, China’s language has softened considerably. Now, in reaction to the text already submitted to the global meeting, China came to consider that the document proposed by the European Union should be looked at quite differently from the one that was initially proposed by Australia.

“It’s not the same,” argued another Foreign Affairs spokesman, Zhao Lijian.

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