The Chinese government squashed its own country’s coronavirus whistleblowers and misled the public and the international community.
In public statements, WHO repeatedly praised the Chinese government for its transparency and its effective measures at containing the coronavirus, when it actually had neither of those things.
This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
There will one day be books written about President Donald Trump and his administration’s litany of coronavirus denialism and incompetence that helped lead the US into the ongoing historic disaster.
Given the culpability, it’s no surprise the president is trying to deflect blame. And while some of this has led to slapdash attempts to blame his predecessors, mostly President Barack Obama, there is one target of Trump’s that will also face history’s judgment: the World Health Organization.
Trump screwed this up, but WHO deserves its share of blame
Before addressing WHO’s culpability in allowing the coronavirus to swell from a local crisis to a pandemic, it is important to emphasize that the US government had its own string of failures.
The Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — which refused to bestow official government permission to university and private researchers to develop their own COVID-19 tests — caused crucial weeks at the onset of the pandemic to go wasted.
Dr. Helen Chu, a Seattle-based infectious-disease expert, went rogue in late February and without the government’s blessing conducted tests that quickly found the disease was popping up in the bodies of people who had not traveled abroad. Those results made Chu and her colleagues certain the country was dangerously behind the curve when it came to identifying and containing the virus.
But inflexible state and federal bureaucracies ordered them to stop conducting tests and did nothing with their data.
That’s why it’s unsurprising that Trump wants to deflect all the blame toward a new villain: WHO, which he claims is in the pocket of the Chinese government.
And by attacking WHO, he’s given the Trumpist clapping seals of Fox News’ prime-time lineup a new bogeyman to rail against.
But there’s a bit of the “stopped clock is correct twice a day” fallacy happening here.
WHO certainly bears a great deal of responsibility for abdicating its role as the world’s leading health authority and amplifying the Communist Party of China’s falsehoods about the novel coronavirus. For these sins, the organization deserves scorn and continued skepticism.
That remains true, even if Trump is the one saying it.
WHO chose politics over truth, and the world suffers as a result
On the subject of taking responsibility, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO’s director-general, has some explaining to do.
Tedros — China’s preferred nominee to lead the organization — had previously overseen Ethiopia’s healthcare system at a time when it was thought to be covering up three separate cholera epidemics. Now on his watch, he’s allowed WHO to uncritically repeat the Chinese government’s unreliable reporting.
In January, WHO tweeted, “Preliminary investigations conducted by the Chinese authorities have found no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission of the novel.” Also in January, Tedros praised China for quickly mapping the virus’ genome and for what he called its government’s “commitment to transparency.” Then in February, Tedros credited China with taking measures that gave the rest of the world “a fighting chance” to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
These are all lies.
Human-to-human transmission was evident as early as December, when the doctor now credited with discovering the coronavirus was punished by the regime before dying of the virus.
The Chinese government didn’t share the virus’ genome with the international community for at least a full week afterward. And “transparency” is an offensively laughable term to use to describe a brutal authoritarian dictatorship like China’s.
If Tedros and WHO are spreading this misinformation, it can mean only one of two things: They’re incompetent, or they’re afraid of offending the Chinese government.
Taiwan? Never heard of it.
Any entity that deals with the Chinese government knows it must toe a delicate line when it comes to Taiwan, a democratic island nation that China insists is not an independent state but rather Chinese sovereign land.
WHO, for its part, doesn’t include Taiwan as a member since the country is not recognized by the United Nations.
That’s why WHO until recently wouldn’t even acknowledge Taiwan’s success in managing the coronavirus’ spread (WHO also shamefully ignored Taiwan’s early warnings about the spread of the coronavirus).
This was made most plain when Bruce Aylward, a Canadian senior WHO adviser, seemed to pretend not to hear an interviewer’s question about Taiwan, then disconnected the call, then refused to answer the original question once the interview reconnected with him.
To be fair to Aylward, the only honest answer he could offer would be to acknowledge that WHO’s leadership was too afraid of damaging its relationship with the Chinese government, a major funder of the organization.
WHO also publicly opposed travel restrictions on travelers from China in January. This was at the urging of the Chinese government, even though it knew human-to-human transmission was possible.
To Trump’s credit, his shutdown of travel from China in late January proved to be the right thing to do for public health, despite the howls from many quarters that it was unnecessary, counterproductive, and xenophobic.
Sure, Trump hardly needs a legitimate reason to call for closing America’s borders to foreign travelers, but whatever his motives were, it was a tactically correct thing to do as the health emergency began to go global (even if we’re now finding out just how many travelers were able to cross into the US from China even after Trump’s restrictions were put into place, as well as the extent of the disease’s spread into the US via travelers from Europe).
Is WHO for the world, or for China?
The Chinese government — the same one that last year put upward of a million Uighur Muslims in reeducation slave camps — is not a friend to the global community, or the truth, especially when it comes to the coronavirus pandemic.
There’s ample reporting that party officials did everything they could to squash anyone publicizing the truth about the virus.
From the doctors who first identified the disease to the hospital officials who raised alarms about the virus’ ability to spread between humans, Chinese government apparatchiks silenced the whistleblowers, who were accused of “spreading rumors” and “causing social panic.”
This, of course, created a chilling effect on educating health officials and the public to take the proper precautions.
And the health commission in Wuhan — the province where the coronavirus emerged — was apparently so intimidated by Beijing that when the crisis began to spiral out of control in mid-January, it was still reporting zero new infections for a period of almost two weeks.
This doesn’t mean we should endorse a Trumpian “burn it all down” anti-globalist agenda when it comes to WHO.
What it means is the global community should be demanding answers as to whether the World Health Organization is more beholden to the Communist Party of China than to the truth.
By Anthony L. Fisher. This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author(s). This article originally posted on Business Insider
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