China on Monday gave in to mounting international pressure for a probe into the origin of Covid-19 and a review of the World Health Organisation’s response to the pandemic. President Xi Jinping told the World Health Assembly that China had acted with ‘openness, transparency and responsibility’ when the disease, which has impacted billions of people across the world, first broke out.
President Xi, who had been invited to speak at the opening ceremony after the European Union-drafted resolution to push for a probe was supported by more than a 100 countries, said Beijing supported calls for a comprehensive review of the global response but felt this exercise should be carried out after the world gets a grip on the situation. The world’s immediate priority should be saving people.
“China supports the idea of a comprehensive review of the global response to COVID-19 after it is brought under control to sum up experience and address deficiencies,” President Xi told the assembly, the UN global health body’s policy making body.
China had previously opposed calls for such investigations from Washington and Canberra.
The health assembly is expected to formally take up the resolution backed by over 120 countries tomorrow. “It is a formality now… No one is objecting to it now,” a diplomat in Geneva told Hindustan Times.
President Xi’s argument at the assembly mirrored the one presented by World Health Organisation director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus after a barrage of criticism, much of it emanating from the United States in the initial days.
Tedros has been blamed for backing Beijing’s narrative and showering praise on President Xi for his handling of the disease around the same time that there was growing evidence of efforts to play down the spread of the disease in January. He was seen standing with Beijing again when the United States restricted flights from China.
There is no need for measures that “unnecessarily interfere with international travel and trade”, the WHO chief said on February 3.
At Monday’s World Health Assembly, President Xi reciprocated, telling the 194-member body that the WHO’s contribution under Dr Tedros had been applauded by the international community.
“At this crucial juncture, to support WHO is to support international cooperation and the battle for saving lives as well,” President Xi said.
The draft resolution that had been pushed by Australia and the European Union had proposed an inquiry into the animal to human transmission of the Sars-CoV-2
President Xi’s comments, made during a video speech to the World Health Assembly, come as a resolution pushed by the European Union and Australia calling for a review of the origin and spread of the coronavirus disease picked up momentum.
By the time the truncated virtual meet started, the 54-nation Africa Group also extended support. This includes Ethiopia, home to Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus who made history in 2017 when he was elected WHO chief.
Tedros was not just the first African to hold the post but also the first WHO chief not to be a medical doctor. The former Ethiopian minister holds a masters in immunology of infectious diseases and a Doctorate of Philosophy (PhD) in community health.
Tedros, who spoke minutes after President Xi, said the inquiry would come “at the earliest appropriate moment” and provide recommendations for future preparedness.
“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,” Tedros said.
The review must encompass responsibility of “all actors in good faith,” he said.