WHO bows to calls from countries for independent virus probe

GENEVA (AP) — 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 United States 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 coordination of the global response to COVID-19 but would stop short of looking into contentious issues such as the origins of the new coronavirus.

US 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.

WHO’s normally bureaucratic annual assembly this week has been overshadowed by mutual recriminations and political sniping between the US 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 WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to resign.

US 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 US 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.


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