EU calls for independent probe of WHO’s pandemic response

GENEVA (AP) — The European Union (EU) and other countries yesterday called for an independent evaluation of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) response to the coronavirus pandemic “to review experience gained and lessons learned”.

The resolution has the support of more than half of WHO’s member countries and will be discussed this week at the decision-making body of the United Nations (UN) health agency, being held virtually this year.

The proposal is intended to initiate “a stepwise process of impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation” of WHO’s efforts to coordinate the international response to COVID-19, including the functioning of international health law and its actions within the greater UN health system.

The move comes amid Australia’s call for an independent inquiry into the origins of the pandemic and WHO’s response to it — and after United States (US) President Donald Trump’s repeated accusations that WHO helped China cover up the extent of the initial outbreak. Trump also called for an immediate halt to US funding to the UN health agency.

The EU resolution proposes that the independent evaluation should be initiated “at the earliest appropriate moment” and should, among other issues, examine “the actions of WHO and their timelines pertaining to the COVID-19 pandemic”.

WHO announced the coronavirus outbreak to be a global health emergency on January 30, its highest level of alert. In the following weeks, WHO warned countries there was a narrowing “window of opportunity” to prevent the virus from spreading globally.

WHO officials repeatedly described the transmission of the virus as “limited” and said it was not as transmissible as flu; experts have since said COVID-19 spreads even faster. It declared the outbreak to be a pandemic on March 11, after the virus killed thousands globally and sparked large epidemics in South Korea, Italy, Iran and elsewhere.

Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO) Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus addresses a press conference about the update on COVID-19 at the WHO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. PHOTO: AP