BIG SLAP IN THE FACE: Why the world turned on the WHO over COVID-19

Saturday - 18/04/2020 11:12
World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Picture: Fabrice Coffrini/AFPSource:AFP
World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Picture: Fabrice Coffrini/AFPSource:AFP
The World Health Organisation has blood on its hands for helping China cover up the deadly coronavirus outbreak – but something it said this week was the final straw.

OPINION 

When Donald Trump announced this week that he was cutting funding to the World Health Organisation, the kneejerk howls of outrage seemed a little less enthusiastic than normal.

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called it “senseless”, the European Union said there was “no reason” to cut funding, while the African Union said it was “surprised to learn of a campaign” by the US government against the WHO and its leader Tedros Ghebreyesus.

Dr Tedros, a microbiologist who rose to government in Ethiopia in the 90s as a member of the Marxist revolutionary group the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, told a media conference Wednesday “we regret the decision” and that “when we’re divided the virus exploits the cracks between us”.

He had earlier accused Mr Trump of “politicising COVID” and warned, “We will have many body bags in front of us if we don’t behave.”

Even so, you could tell their hearts just weren’t in it.

It has become nearly impossible to defend the WHO – which up until recently was routinely criticised by all sides for waste, corruption and incompetence – against allegations it made the coronavirus pandemic worse by covering up for China in the crucial early stages in January and February.

“The WHO really blew it. For some reason, funded largely by the United States, yet very China-centric. We will be giving that a good look,” Mr Trump tweeted earlier this week, shortly before announcing he was cutting its $US400 million a year in funding.

But Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said Australia would not be following suit. “We rely on organisations like the WHO to deliver medical services and support to those on the ground (in developing nations),” he told 2GB. “Ours is a different perspective.”

Critics say Mr Trump is scapegoating the WHO to deflect from his own handling of the coronavirus.

US officials largely have four key gripes with the WHO.

One, that it repeated China’s claim that there was no evidence of human-to-human transmission until late January.

Two, that it “deferred to Chinese propaganda” about the spread of the disease and deaths, praised Beijing for its containment efforts and even promoted traditional Chinese medicine as treatment.

Three, that it opposed travel restrictions on China by the likes of the US and Australia as inciting “fear and stigma”.

And four, that it refused to declare the coronavirus a global pandemic until March 11 when it was “too late”, with the virus having already spread to 110 countries.

More recently, the WHO sparked disbelief this week for saying it supported the reopening of China’s “wet markets”, a decision Prime Minister Scott Morrison slammed as “unfathomable”.

“They put political correctness above human lives,” Mr Trump told a press conference. “So much death has been caused by their mistakes.”

 

China and the WHO have a cosy relationship. Picture: Chinatopix via AP
China and the WHO have a cosy relationship. Picture: Chinatopix via APSource:AP
 

The WHO has also been caught out on the vexed issue of Taiwan, which claims it warned the global body about the virus in late December but was ignored.

A “fact sheet” distributed by the White House claims the WHO "ignored Taiwan’s offers to mobilise against the disease, choosing to work with China to cover up the severity of COVID-19 and deny facts”.

Mr Trump and US officials are not the only ones making such claims.

Xiao Qiang, a research scientist at Berkeley, was monitoring China’s official statements about the outbreak in January when he noticed that the WHO often disturbingly echoed China’s propaganda.

“Particularly at the beginning, it was shocking when I again and again saw (Dr Tedros), when he spoke to the press … almost directly quoting what I read on the Chinese government’s statements,” he told The Atlantic.

The final straw came on Tuesday, however, with the WHO’s claim that alcohol “does not protect against COVID-19” and recommendation that governments “enforce measures which limit alcohol consumption” during lockdown.

“This is war,” tweeted conservative radio host Jesse Kelly.

The people who still defend the WHO are the same kind of people who see nothing wrong with the United Nations – of which the WHO is but one tentacle – appointing to its Human Rights Council countries that still behead people in the street.

The kind of people who paint their faces with EU flags and scream at the sky.

If you’re wondering what kind of person that is exactly, a question from a UK journalist during Wednesday’s press briefing sums it up.

After telling Dr Tedros and his colleagues “how much gratitude so many people in the UK and all over the world have for all of you”, she went on to plug her YouTube video explaining her theory about the link between climate change and coronavirus.

Stay tuned post-pandemic, as this will no doubt be a rich vein of taxpayer-funded research in coming years.

“But my question really is, what can we do to help you?” she concluded.

“Because I would like to create a human shield around you, but that's not possible, and I want to know if there's anything that the world can do for the organisation that is guiding us.”

In a way, you could say the WHO’s “guidance” has already created human shields – 145,568 of them, at last count.

frank.chung@news.com.au

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 Keywords: Donald Trump, China

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