The planet is paying a heavy price for countries ignoring the recommendations of the World Health Organization to fight the Covid-19 pandemic, UN chief Antonio Guterres told a virtual meeting of the WHO’s World Health Assembly on Monday.
“Different countries have followed different, sometimes contradictory strategies and we are all paying a heavy price,” the secretary-general told the WHO gathering.
Speaking after Guterres, the head of the WHO said he would initiate an independent evaluation of its handling of the coronavirus pandemic at the “earliest appropriate moment” and vowed transparency and accountability.
“We all have lessons to learn from the pandemic. Every country and every organisation must examine its response and learn from its experience. WHO is committed to transparency, accountability and continuous improvement,” WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told the assembly.
Tedros thanked early high-level speakers for their “strong support for WHO at this critical time” and said that the review must encompass responsibility of “all actors in good faith”.
Tedros, who has always promised a post-pandemic review, said it would come “at the earliest appropriate moment” and provide recommendations for future preparedness.
US President Donald Trump has fiercely questioned the WHO’s performance during the pandemic and led international criticism of China’s handling of the early stages of the crisis.
“The risk remains high and we have a long road to travel,” Tedros added, saying preliminary tests in some countries showed that at most 20% of populations had contracted the disease but most places that less than 10 per cent.
A resolution drafted by the European Union called for an independent evaluation of the WHO’s performance and appeared to have won consensus backing among the health body’s 194 states.
Beijing has previously opposed calls for a review of the origin and spread of the coronavirus, but Chinese leader Xi Jinping signalled his country would be amenable to an impartial evaluation of the global response once the pandemic is brought under control.
“This work needs a scientific and professional attitude, and needs to be led by the WHO. And the principles of objectivity and fairness need to be upheld,” Xi told the meeting via video.
Calling the pandemic the most serious global public health emergency since the end of World War Two, Xi said: “All along we have acted with openness and transparency and responsibility.”
A draft of the EU resolution made no mention of China.
WHO and most experts say the virus is believed to have emerged in a market selling wildlife in the central city of Wuhan late last year. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said this month there is “a significant amount of evidence” the virus came from a laboratory in Wuhan, a charge China rejects.
A draft text of the EU resolution urges Tedros to initiate an “impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation” of the response to Covid-19 under the WHO “at the earliest appropriate moment”.
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Diplomats said the United States, which suspended its funding of the WHO during the crisis, was unlikely to block a consensus backing the resolution.
But it could “dissociate” itself from sections referring to intellectual property rights for drugs and vaccines, and to continued provision of services for sexual and reproductive health during the pandemic, they said.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said Africa affirms its “full support”, but assistance to the continent should include debt relief and help with diagnostics, drugs and medical supplies.
Barbados’ prime minister said Caribbean states need a restructuring of debt or a debt moratorium to “provide certainty to both borrower and lender” during the pandemic.