he credibility and sanctity of the World Health Organisation (WHO) – the global body working for the protection of world population against diseases – have never before been dented the way they are now over the origin and control of Covid-19. It is perceived to have aided China in the latter’s alleged cover-up of the origin and suppression of facts relating to the spread of the deadly virus. There is even suspicion whether it has from the beginning of the outbreak been dancing to the tune of China desperately trying to exonerate itself from the charge that it is solely responsible for the pandemic. The suspicion is now strengthened by China’s stiff resistance to the WHO’s plan for the second phase of a study into the origins of Covid-19. Zeng Yixin, Vice-Minister of China’s National Health Commission, has expressed shock and surprise that the plan includes further investigation of the theory that the virus might have leaked from a Chinese lab. China has been persistently denying that the lethal virus originated from its lab in Wuhan. Another theory floated in early 2020 was that the virus originated in the wet market in Wuhan. China did not allow WHO experts to visit the lab for a year after the outbreak on one pretext or the other. Now, it has started implicating other countries for the spread by suggesting that the virus might have come from places other than China as the wet market in Wuhan gets its supply from several countries.
The search for the answers to the origin of the Covid-19 outbreak has now become a cause for diplomatic row between China on the one hand and the USA and many of its allies on the other. The latter accuse China of not being transparent about the sequence of events from the first detection and spread of the deadly virus from Wuhan. China’s position is that it is being falsely blamed for the pandemic and the matter is being politicised instead of being left to scientists to unravel the truth.
And here comes the significance of the role of the WHO. Many questions are being raised about the methods followed by the WHO in declaring the pandemic. It was first in a denial mode over whether the virus spread through human-to-human contact. Then it equivocated on the question of whether the virus got leaked from a Chinese lab or it was a creation of nature jumping from bat to man. It is alleged that Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of WHO, was aided in getting elected to this top post by the Chinese vote. The then President of the United States, Donald Trump withdrew funding to WHO on the grounds that it was dithering in exposing the truth and protecting China. Trump had stated that while the USA contributed $853 million in 2018-19, China put in $89 million. Now that President Joe Biden has reversed Trump’s decision and pledged $4 billion to WHO, fresh attempts are being made to press China for further investigation into the origin of the virus.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus finally admitted that there had been a ‘premature push’ after the first phase of the study in China by WHO experts to rule out the theory that the virus might have escaped from a Chinese government lab in Wuhan. His desperation to save the WHO’s reputation is obvious.
The first team of WHO scientists conducted a study in Wuhan earlier this year along with their Chinese counterparts. The team was accused of wilting under Chinese pressure after it suggested further study wasn’t necessary. The experts visited markets in Wuhan that sold live animals and recommended further study of the farms that supplied the market. This prompted China to clamour for examining the meat supply chain located in other countries as a possible source of the virus.
WHO stated January 14, 2020 that Chinese authorities did not find any clear evidence of human-to-human transmission of the coronavirus. It accepted the Chinese version on the plea that as per procedure, it has to go by the report given by the country first affected. Tedros refused to declare Public Health Emergency of International Concern on the ground that the Emergency Committee was divided on the issue. He declared coronavirus as a pandemic later in March 2020.
Statistics emanating from China continue to fuel suspicion. Only 12 new domestically spread cases were reported last week and China’s death toll from the virus has remained unchanged for months at 4,636, although China’s statistics are always suspect. It claims to have largely ended local transmission of Covid and has now administered over 1.4 billion doses of Chinese vaccines. The question is whether this proves China’s efficiency in tackling Covid-19 or whether it is typical propaganda to capture the world health market and deflect blame.