WHO’s early coronavirus response raises awkward questions about Beijing relationship

Apr 3, 2020

New questions are being asked about whether the WHO has sought to curry favour with China in ways that have undermined the reliability of its advice.

In the early afternoon of Jan. 31, the lead World Health Organization representative in Beijing held a video briefing to update diplomats on the spread of a deadly new virus – and to laud China for everything it was doing.

Only a day before, the WHO had declared a “public-health emergency of international concern” over the deadly new coronavirus that causes COVID-19, after an initial outbreak in China’s Hubei province began to spread around the world. The WHO also said no restrictions on travel or trade were necessary.

On the video briefing, the WHO’s top man in China, Gauden Galea, praised the Chinese virus response. Then he went a step further, calling on other countries not to step out of line with the WHO recommendations, a key concern for Beijing, which was furious that countries were beginning to close their borders to Chinese travellers.

Any United Nations member country “will have to scientifically justify” any measure that “goes beyond UN recommendation. This justification will be made public,” Mr. Galea said, according to notes of the meeting made by one of the participants and seen by The Globe and Mail.

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