The Geneva-based World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Novel Coronavirus a global pandemic in March while it declared a public health emergency of international concern, its "highest level of alarm", on January 30 after WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus held a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping during the visit to China.
By the end of January, people started assuming that this outbreak could surpass all the previous records including the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, but WHO has skill-fully delayed to assess the situation and then announced the COVID-19 a pandemic more than a month after.
Essentially, this one month delay by WHO has allowed the community transmission of the disease among global passengers,who are let go without quarantine but now returning to hospitals with COVID-19 symptoms.
The World Health Organization, which was created in the last century has vividly failed to read the writing on the wall. Earlier too, the global health agency had come under criticism in 2014 when it dragged its feet downplaying the severity of the Ebola epidemic that claimed 11,300 lives in three West Africa countries for over two years.
China on Coronavirus outbreak
Even though Chinese doctors at Wuhan started to notice a surge in pneumonia-like cases in the first three months of December, Wuhan Municipal Health Commission said on December 31 that their investigation has not found "any obvious human-to-human transmission and no medical staff infection." Weeks after the healthcare staff started noticing a possible outbreak in China's Wuhan, the Chinese authority informed WHO about the situation in the region.
China not only ignored early alarms sounded by whistleblower Li Wenliang, but it also continued to hide information about the Coronavirus since the beginning. Wuhan Public Security Bureau accused the late Dr Wenliang of spreading rumours about the COVID-19 outbreak. He also had to sign a statement at a police station acknowledging his "misdemeanour" and promising not to commit "unlawful acts" in the future. In the middle of January, the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission finally stated that "the possibility of limited human-to-human transmission cannot be ruled out."
When Tedros and other WHO officials visited the initial epicentre of the Coronavirus outbreak, the concern was raised by WHO but ended in its friendly and laudatory words for the government of China in dealings with Beijing. Even, the Director-General Tedros praised Chinese authorities and said, "China is actually setting a new standard for outbreak response."
Did WHO put politics over health?
Even after the visit to China in January and assessing the situation WHO refused to call the situation a pandemic. Later, Tedros Tweeted that he discussed the plan of action with China's President Xi but did not disclose what they had actually talked about.
Here it should be noted that the head of Geneva-based organization, Tedros had been alleged to have downplayedcholera epidemic in his own country, Ethiopia, when he was the health minister between 2005 and 2012. Earlier Lawrence Gostin, a public health expert at Georgetown University said that some of the cover-ups in 2006, 2009 and 2011 occurred under Tedros' watch, when he described that it wasn't cholera but just an "acute watery diarrhoea," while cholera was found in stool samples.
As per Wall Street Journal, Tedros is also comfortable dealing with authoritarian leaders and he knows that China was likely to follow through on claims that it would control the epidemic in the country where no independent media is allowed to report cases to improve transparency. It should be noted that WHO is funded by the UN member states, including China which is the second-largest donor after the US.
Someone finally accused WHO for ignoring COVID -19 questions
Doesn't matter whether anyone played politics or not, the hide and seek game affected the entire world. Taiwan recently accused the WHO of ignoring its questions at the start of the COVID-19 outbreak. It should be noted that Taiwan is barred from membership in Geneva-based organization under pressure from China. But it responded to the outbreak at an initial stage and had notable success in limiting contagion so far.
As per the reports, the Government of Taiwan has said that keeping it out of the WHO during the virus outbreak which has claimed thousands of lives globally, amounts to playing politics with the residents of Taiwan. The Government also mentioned that it has restricted access to the first-hand information. But China and WHO both denied these claims and said that Taiwan has been provided with the required help.
Taiwan's Centres for Disease Control chief Chou Jih-haw said it wrote to the WHO and China as early as December 31, asking for information about the outbreak in Wuhan and also asked whether the virus can be transmitted between human to human. Chou said that the WHO confirmed it had received the letter but did not respond to it.
Later, when Taiwan sent experts to China in January, they were not allowed to see any patients or to go to the Wuhan market where the virus is believed to have originated, said Chen. After this visit to the initial epicentre of the virus outbreak, Taiwanese officials realized that they had to act quickly which helped them to battle against the spread of the disease in Taiwan.
In a statement to Reuters, WHO did not directly address the issue of Taiwan being ignored, but said, "Since that time until now WHO has regarded the event as very serious and applied the full range of attention to it from across the organization."