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WHO to probe corona response

Top Story

May 19, 2020

WHO to probe corona response

GENEVA: The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Monday kicked off its first ever virtual assembly, but fears abound that US-China tensions could derail the strong action needed to address the coronavirus pandemic. Coronavirus cases surged to 4,859,345 with 60,080 cases while 318,530 deaths with 20,15 new deaths were reported across the world on Monday, says the Worldometer in its report.

The World Health Assembly, which has been trimmed from the usual three weeks to just two days, Monday and Tuesday, is expected to focus almost solely on COVID-19. US President Donald Trump last week threatened to cut ties with China, where the outbreak first emerged late last year, over its role in the spread of COVID-19, and has repeatedly made unproven allegations that the virus originated in a Chinese lab. He has also suspended funding to the WHO over accusations it initially downplayed the seriousness of the outbreak, and was kowtowing to Beijing.

Despite the tensions, countries hope to adopt a resolution by consensus urging a joint response to the pandemic. The resolution, tabled by the European Union, calls for an "impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation" of the international response to the coronavirus crisis. Consultations around the text concluded last week after "tough" negotiations, according to Nora Kronig, who heads the international affairs division of Switzerland´s public health office. After several days, a tentative agreement was reached to approve the resolution, which also calls for more equitable access for tests, medical equipment, potential treatments and a possible future vaccine.

An EU source hailed the draft as "ambitious", and pointed out that if it does indeed pass by consensus as expected, it would mark the first time a global forum has achieved unanimous support for a text on the COVID-19 response. The source said countries had not shied away from thorny topics, including a call for more WHO reform after determining that its capacities "have proven insufficient to prevent a crisis of this magnitude". It also calls for the WHO to work closely with other international agencies and countries to identify the animal source of the virus and figure out how it first jumped to humans. While diplomats have agreed in principle on the draft resolution, observers voiced concerns that in the current politicised atmosphere, some countries might still choose to break the consensus next week. "My hope is that we will be able to join consensus," US Ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva Andrew Bremberg said Friday.

The UN chief Antonio Guterres the coronavirus pandemic should serve as a "wake-up call" to the world which must be more united in responding to the crisis. Guterres reiterated his call for a WHO-led international response, expanded mental health services and policies to address the social and economic problems caused by the crisis. He said the crisis was an opportunity to rebuild a better world -- but he questioned whether countries were up to it. "Different countries have followed different, sometimes contradictory strategies and we are all paying a heavy price. Many countries have ignored the recommendations of the World Health Organisation. As a result, the virus has spread across the world." the United Nations chief said at the start of a virtual meeting of the WHO World Health Assembly. The WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus pledged to launch an independent probe to review the coronavirus pandemic response as soon as possible. "I will initiate an independent evaluation at the earliest appropriate moment to review experience gained and lessons learned and to make recommendations to improve national and global pandemic preparedness and response," he said at the start of the WHO´s annual World Health Assembly. The US president has also ramped up criticism of Tedros and WHO, accusing them of being too close to China and mismanaging the pandemic response.

Governments including the US and Australia have called in recent weeks for an investigation into the origins of the virus, which has become a flashpoint in deteriorating tensions between Washington and Beijing. Both US President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have accused China of a lack of transparency over the issue, and repeatedly pushed the theory that the virus leaked from a Chinese maximum-security laboratory. Addressing the first-ever virtual gathering of the WHO´s annual assembly, Xi said China has "always had an open, transparent and responsible attitude," and had shared information on the virus in a timely manner. Speaking via videolink with a painting of the Great Wall in the background, Xi said China supports a "comprehensive evaluation" of the global response to the pandemic after it "has been brought under control" and that the probe should be led by the WHO. The inquiry should "sum up experiences and improve shortcomings" and "adhere to the principles of objectivity and fairness", Xi told the World Health Assembly. With the world racing to find a drug to stop the pandemic, Xi pledged to make any potential vaccine developed by China a "global public good" once it was put into use. This move would be China´s contribution to achieving accessibility and affordability of a vaccine in developing countries as well, Xi said. China says it has five potential vaccines in clinical trials.

Meanwhile, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced a lockdown across Turkey during the Eidul Fitr holidays marking the end of Ramazan. That would mean from Saturday to Tuesday next week. Turkey has had all-day, weekend and sometimes longer curfews in dozens of cities including Istanbul and the capital Ankara since the start of the outbreak. This will be the first time the entire country of 83 million will be under confinement for four days. Erdogan said schools would not reopen this academic year and would instead start in September. Figures released on Monday showed 4,171 coronavirus deaths in Turkey with over 150,000 confirmed infections. The daily death tolls have fallen below 100 in the last few weeks.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said the coronavirus situation in Dagestan required urgent attention after a top official said Dagestan has reported 3,460 coronavirus cases and just 29 deaths. The Rusian health officials reported 8,926 new infections in the last 24 hours, bringing the country´s total to 290,678, the second-highest in the world after the United States. It was the lowest number of new virus cases since May 1, when Russia announced 7,933 cases. Russia´s total fatalities now stand at 2,722, a rate considerably lower than in many other countries inviting criticism.

Similarly, India's federal health ministry reported 157 new deaths due to COVID-19, besides fresh 5,242 positive cases were reported since Sunday in the country, taking the number of deaths to 3,029 and total cases to 96,169. Monday marks the 55th straight day of the ongoing lockdown across the country announced by the Centre Government to contain the spread of the pandemic. Iran said it was entering a new phase of trying to eliminate the novel coronavirus after bringing the deadliest outbreak under control in many regions. Health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said meanwhile that 2,294 new infections were confirmed in the past 24 hours, raising the total to 122,492. Jahanpour added that 1,760 of the new cases were outpatients and people who had been in close contact with those infected.