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Is WHO Capable Of Pressurizing China To Share More Details On Covid-19? 

Bhaswati Guha Majumder

Jun 08, 2021, 02:48 PM | Updated 02:19 PM IST

WHO and China
WHO and China
  • While the world continues to fight the Covid-19 pandemic, can WHO compel China to be more transparent about Covid-19 origin?
  • A top official at the World Health Organization (WHO) has stated that the UN agency cannot compel China to reveal more information on Covid-19’s origins, but it will propose studies to advance the understanding of the virus’s emergence to the “next level”.

    During the recent news conference, when Mike Ryan, WHO’s director of emergencies, was asked how the agency will “compel” China to become more transparent about the Covid-19, he said: “WHO doesn’t have the power to compel anyone in this regard”.

    “We fully expect cooperation, input and support of all of our member states in that endeavour,” he said on 7 June.

    Last year, some public health experts and foreign diplomats also made similar comments and said that the agency has no authority to force any foreign government to divulge medical information or open doors to its labs, as well as hospitals.

    Many people lashed out at the WHO for its response to the pandemic while accusing the global health body of helping China conceal the extent of the outbreak at a critical stage by relying on the information which it received from Beijing.

    While focusing on a clear picture, Lawrence Gostin, director of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University, said: “There’s no power that WHO has that would have enabled it to uncover any lack of transparency on the part of China”.

    “That’s been the case ever since WHO’s founding in 1948. They are always subject to the powers of sovereign states, to be invited to their territories or excluded from their territory, and whether that country’s going to be opened or closed,” he added.

    It is the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) that failed to reveal information about the coronavirus and restricted access to crucial information when the team of WHO experts went to the country to investigate the origin.

    So, the blame lies with Beijing, not the UN agency.

    The WHO was caught in a bind because its guidelines rely on the goodwill of its 194 member states.

    According to healthcare experts and diplomats, instead of confronting Beijing and risking losing any chance of cooperation, it attempted to persuade China to give access.

    A European diplomat said that it was a tactical decision and was probably the only way to get access to the information.

    But Yanzhong Huang, a global health fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and the head of Seton Hall’s Global Health Studies, earlier said: “Recognising the concern to make China happy to get cooperation, they [WHO] could have done a better job in pressing China”.

    During the SARS epidemic in 2003, the WHO was harsher on China, urging the government to allow it access to outbreaks in Beijing and other affected locations.

    But during the Covid-19 pandemic, the scenario changed and many raised fingers at the agency.

    However, during the recent media briefing, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus bemoaned the Covid-19 vaccination disparity, which he claimed has created a “two-track pandemic,” with Western countries protected but poorer countries still vulnerable, and renewed requests for shot donations.

    “Increasingly, we see a two-track pandemic: many countries still face an extremely dangerous situation, while some of those with the highest vaccination rates are starting to talk about ending restrictions,” he said, adding that vaccine sharing was essential to end the acute phase of the pandemic.

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