WHO, China must own up
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WHO, China must own up

As Wuhan reopens after a lengthy lockdown, other cities around the world are still battling the ravages of Covid-19. Therefore, the "recovery" in the Chinese city where the pandemic began should not signal that the world can simply let bygones be bygones.

The catastrophic global impact of the outbreak and the number of dead and infected could have been much less severe had the initial responses from both China and the World Health Organization (WHO) been more transparent and timely.

Some might say that it is neither the time to "politicise" the coronavirus issue nor the place to blame any of the parties involved.

However, world leaders have valid reasons to expect China and the UN health agency to clean up their act, accept their shortcomings which allowed the virus to gain such a tenacious hold, and learn their lessons. The world cannot afford another outbreak like Covid-19.

In a tweet this week, US President Donald Trump did not mince words as he branded the WHO as "China-centric", accusing it of acting too slowly to sound the alarm, and being strongly under the influence of China.

His rebuke should not be taken as mere spite. It reflects similar criticisms by other world leaders, including Japan's Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso and Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

China's initial handling of the outbreak was plagued with secrecy and delays. Since the first cases of mysterious viral pneumonia were reported late last year, Chinese authorities not only played down the severity of the outbreak but also worked to silence doctors and other whistleblowers who tried to raise the alarm.

A South China Morning Post report citing government data suggests that cases of coronavirus were first detected as early as November. However, China claims the first case was recorded on Dec 8 and it only alerted the WHO to several cases of the unknown pneumonia in Wuhan on Dec 31.

In the following weeks, China continued to describe the outbreak as "preventable and controllable", even though infections began emerging elsewhere domestically and internationally in countries such as Thailand.

China kept insisting there was no human-to-human transmission while the WHO bought this claim, consistently praising China for its cooperation in providing accurate data and hailing its response.

Even on Jan 30 when the number of confirmed cases in China reached 12,167, the WHO insisted its emergency committee was not recommending any travel or trade restrictions.

A Sky News Australia report this week revealed the head of the agency blocked the release of the names of doctors who voted against declaring a global health emergency in late January as proposed by their peers.

China waited until Feb 14 to disclose information that 1,700 of its healthcare workers were infected. Had this data been disclosed earlier, it could have helped many other countries better handle the outbreak.

It was not until March 11 that the WHO finally classified the outbreak as a pandemic. However, by that time, it was too late as infections had already spread far and wide.

The WHO might have been trying its best to work with China to gain access to its data. However, the agency went too far in its repeated praise for Beijing, an approach that many have said exacerbated the spread of the disease.

Both China and the WHO must own up to their own actions -- and inactions -- with this deadly disease that helped to bring the world to a standstill.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

Email : anchaleek@bangkokpost.co.th

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