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EDITORIAL | COVID-19 Emergency Over, But WHO Has Questions to Answer

After nearly 7 million deaths, Tedros has declared the crisis is over. But WHO's deference to China and the origins of COVID-19 have yet to be accounted for.

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COVID-19
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at a press conference in Geneva, western Switzerland, on May 5, 2023. (Image from live video feed via Kyodo)

World Health Organization (WHO) head Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has declared "COVID-19 over as a global health emergency."

His announcement reflects the decline in new infections and deaths due to the widespread use of vaccines and other factors. The WHO move marks an important milestone on the road to ending the long-running COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly seven million deaths later, it has been a crisis tremendously impacting every nation and region.

That said, there remain issues that we cannot afford to overlook. 

WHO's Problematic Deference to China

First, there was WHO's poor response after the first COVID-19 infections were confirmed in Wuhan, China, in December 2019. Tedros had long been criticized for being unduly influenced by the Chinese government. Wasn't that the reason for WHO's inadequate and lethargic response to the outbreak of the disease in China? 

It would be unacceptable to lower the curtain on this tragedy without first investigating this point. 

COVID-19
A motorcade carries the WHO international survey team into the "Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market." This is also where a large number of infected people appeared in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. In Wuhan, China, January 2021 (© Kyodo)

Back in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, WHO held emergency committee meetings on January 22 and 23, 2020. But it decided to postpone making any declaration of a health emergency. 

Thereafter, the situation steadily worsened. Yet, in Beijing the same month, on January 28, Tedros lavished praise on China for its "rare leadership" and "transparency." He concluded, "I admire the rapid and effective measures that the Chinese government has adopted." 

WHO did not issue an emergency declaration until January 30. Regarding the late timing, Tedros admitted that the Chinese side had asked him to proceed cautiously before making the decision.

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Delayed, Limited Investigation into Virus

It was not until January 2021, more than a year after the outbreak, that a WHO team of international experts finally arrived in Wuhan to investigate the origin of the virus.

As has been pointed out, their scientific "investigation" was limited to locations agreed to by the Chinese side. And in the end it proved merely an endorsement of China's claims. 

COVID-19
Mr Embarek (right) of the WHO's international COVID-19 investigation mission holds a press conference on February 9, 2021. He is also accompanied by the person in charge from the Chinese side (left) in Wuhan, China. (© Kyodo)

Under the circumstances, WHO's supine response only aided China's coverup regarding the truth of the COVID-19 origins. If true, it is no exaggeration to say that WHO's multiple instances of deference toward China have had disastrous results for the world.

However, WHO's fatal mistakes do not stop there. 

Excluding Taiwan

Many countries, including Japan and the United States, have urged that Taiwan be granted observer status at WHO's annual World Health Assembly. However, WHO has not approved Taiwan's attendance. This exclusion of Taiwan is yet another example of deference to China.

This creates a vacuum around Taiwan as far as information and responses to infectious diseases are concerned. Above all, denial of Taiwan's valuable knowledge is an act of betrayal against the international community. 

Taiwan had important information and enjoyed great success in containing the infection at its early stages. But that information could not be shared. This can hardly be characterized as fulfillment of WHO's role as an international organization.

Tedros's Responsibility

It is only proper that WHO's decisionmaking, including the responsibility of Tedros himself, should be questioned. Shouldn't there be third-party verification for this purpose?

A meeting of G7 health ministers will be held in Nagasaki City on May 13-14. Japan should take that occasion to advocate the necessity of verifying and reforming the WHO.

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(Read the editorial in Japanese.)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. B Hayashida

    May 14, 2023 at 9:53 am

    Tedros's re-election as WHO director was not supported even by his native Ethiopia due to his ties to the leftist Ethiopian political party Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF), which has been connected to human rights violations and to contributing to Ethiopia's famine in the 1980s. Why did Tedros get rid of Dr Kasai? He was a threat to Tedros? Dr Kasai, an expert in health crisis management. And he was considered one of the leading candidates to succeed Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus as the WHO's director general! So Tedros solved his problem by getting rid of Kasai!

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