More than 110 nations have backed a call for the World Health Organisation to investigate the origins of the Covid-19 virus outbreak. New Zealand is one of them.
This is the text of the relevant clause of the World Health Assembly document on Covid-19 which includes the call for an inquiry:
OP9.10 “Initiate, at the earliest appropriate moment, and in consultation with Member States,
1 a stepwise process of impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation, including using existing mechanisms,
2 as appropriate, to review experience gained and lessons learned from the WHO-coordinated international health response to COVID-19, including
(i) the effectiveness of the mechanisms at WHO’s disposal;
(ii) the functioning of the IHR and the status of implementation of the relevant recommendations of the previous IHR Review Committees;
(iii) WHO’s contribution to United Nations-wide efforts; and
(iv) the actions of WHO and their timelines pertaining to the COVID-19 pandemic, and make recommendations to improve global pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response capacity, including through strengthening, as appropriate, WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme;”
The global lead on this was taken by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison three weeks ago, when he called for the WHO to have the power to send a team of investigators into a country to determine the factors behind a disease outbreak. He likened them to weapon inspectors deployed to countries to verify disarmament programs. This was vigorously opposed by China and clearly has not made it into the current WHO resolution.
In case we forget what a total bully China is, following the Australian comments, China threatened to boycott Australian products. It cut imports of Australian beef on technical grounds, and on Monday its Commerce Ministry announced it would impose 80% tariffs on Australian barley.
Another prospect that China vehemently opposed and New Zealand got caned for – a Taiwanese presence at the World Health Assembly – also dissolved on Monday after Foreign Minister Joseph Wu said Taiwan would withdraw its bid for observer status, which Beijing had resisted.
Xi Jinping has now agreed, thrown $2 billion at the WHO, and folded. Also they’ve agreed if they get a vaccine it will be global public domain. Personally I think we should send them our entire medical bill.
Now, sure, United States diplomats will use this opportunity to help defend the precarious position of their President with blame-offloading over 100,000 dead US citizens. And China will continue to throw out cash to the WHO to see if it can supplant the U.S. in another forum. It’s unlikely in an inquiry framed around “lessons” and the WHO functioning that there will be any mechanisms to prize open China to the scrutiny it deserves.
But beyond the macropolitics, we all need answers. The entire world has been damaged – as will all of us personally. Did we need to be damaged so much? What lessons learned are we going to gain that will improve our response next time? How will these global institutions get strengthened so that national health systems and governments can react faster?
Sunlight (along with washing your hands long enough to sing Happy Birthday) is the best disinfectant.