WHO ‘delayed Covid alert to keep in with Beijing’
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Taiwanese authorities had sent the WHO an email regarding their concerns about “atypical pneumonia cases” in Wuhan in December 2019, according to reports. But the WHO did not act on the warning as relations with Taiwan were strained due to China’s claims of sovereignty over the island.
Taiwanese vice president Chen Chien-Jen, an epidemiologist, accused the WHO of dismissing the early evidence it had provided, and said they failed to warn the world about the Covid pandemic.
And the WHO did little to challenge Chinese misinformation, including claims that the disease could not be transmitted easily between people, it was claimed yesterday.
Pressure is once more mounting on Beijing to consider a fresh probe into the origins of a pandemic which has killed more than four million people and paralysed economies worldwide since it first emerged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.
On Friday, China rejected calls for a fresh probe, saying it supported “scientific” over “political” efforts to find out how the virus started.
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An investigation into the origins of the virus initially concluded that it was “extremely unlikely” to have come from a lab.
It has also been suggested officials agreed on a backroom deal with the Chinese to water down the inquiry into the origins of Covid. This meant steering scientists away from the theory the virus escaped from a Wuhan laboratory, rather than coming from rare animals in a wet market in the city in December 2019.
Chief among the decision-makers at the WHO is Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who is a long-time friend of China. He visited Chinese President Xi Jinping in January 2020, two months before the pandemic began.
David Fidler, a former WHO legal adviser, said yesterday: “The WHO knew China was not being transparent, particularly about human-to-human transmission.”
But the scientist who led the eventual WHO inquiry this week admitted it was a “likely hypothesis”. Asked if the Chinese would have agreed to the report’s publication if the lab scenario had not been described as “extremely unlikely”, Dr Peter Embarek said: “That would have probably demanded further discussion and arguments… I didn’t think it was worth it.”
Professor Richard Ebright, of Rutgers University’s Waksman Institute of Microbiology in New Jersey, a fellow of the Infectious Disease Society of America, said of China’s influence over the WHO and its failure to act quickly at the start of the pandemic: “Not only did it have a role; it has had a decisive role.
“It was the only motivation. There was no scientific or medical or policy justification for the stance that the WHO took in January and February 2020.”
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