The WHO responded very late to the spread of the coronavirus. Many accuse her of being too close to Beijing – including Donald Trump.
This week, the Secretary General of the World Health Organization (WHO) made a surprising allegation. Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, Ethiopian Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he has been exposed to insults and racist slanders from Taiwan. “These attacks came three months ago,” he said, the State Department there knew. He did not provide any evidence.
Taiwan protested and apologized for “defamation.” The background for Tedros ’assertion may be the attacks by US President Donald Trump that the WHO was too” China-centered “in the corona crisis. It represents the interests of the People’s Republic too much.
With Taiwan, which is considered by China to be a separate part of the country and cannot be a member of the WHO on Chinese initiative, Tedros would have identified a culprit for the ongoing criticism of the World Health Organization. This is anything but unfounded.
His organization stood behind Chinas leadership early on. When some countries began to ban people from China from entering the world, WHO said these measures were unnecessary.
On several occasions, General Director Tedros China praised China for its “total” openness, “excellent performance” and even spoke of “the world was in debt to Beijing”.
According to media reports, the first known infection with Sars-CoV-2 comes from mid-November. As early as December, there were apparently hundreds of infections now confirmed, and the genetic material was analyzed around Christmas.
However, the World Health Organization appeased for a long time, relying on statements by the Chinese regime: In mid-January, it still said that the virus was probably not transferable from person to person – it only corrected this at the end of January.
China withheld information about Covid-19
The Chinese authorities apparently already had information in December that medical personnel were infected – experts from Taiwan informed the WHO about this in December.
However, the UN organization often closed its eyes to the real situation in China – and praised Beijing’s measures, although many experts viewed them critically. Part of the praise may have served the purpose of Beijing letting WHO experts travel to the country, which was previously unsuccessful.
But there are also close relationships elsewhere: Tedros was elected in 2017 with the support of China. China is one of the most important partners of its home country, Ethiopia, in whose government he had previously been a minister for many years – with billions in loans from the Far East.
“Given a previously unknown virus, China has rolled out perhaps the most ambitious, agile and aggressive containment strategies in history,” said the team of WHO experts in February after their trip. It is an “all government and society” approach that has created a stronger line of defense against international expansion.
The WHO responded late to the virus
The virus had already spread to several countries in January – when the WHO still claimed that it was not communicable. Beijing has also reported fifty percent more infections than reported, according to media reports, but the WHO claims that China reported all cases.
It is also believed that many more people died in Wuhan. When asked whether China was hiding information, WHO expert Bruce Aylward said, “No, they don’t.”
Beijing shows how the world should react to the virus – and that containment is possible, said WHO experts. “It is not surprising that something like this works,” says Richard Neher, virologist at the University of Basel. What the WHO ignored and for which it collected no data is crucial: the side effects of the steps.
Beijing uses the virus as a propaganda tool
There are “significant human rights concerns,” said Lawrence O. Gostin, who heads a WHO collaboration center for global health law at Georgetown University in Washington. When asked, the WHO said it had “not enough data” to classify this.
“By presenting Chinas moves in a positive light, the WHO government can make its propaganda campaign to cover up its past mistakes credible,” said Steve Tsang, director of the China Institute at SOAS University in London. At the same time, the human, social and economic costs of the measures would be ignored.
Anyone who violates quarantine rules in China faces the death penalty
Beijing relies a lot on coercion anyway: If infected people break the quarantine rules, they have to go to prison for at least three years – in severe cases, the Supreme People’s Court made it clear that the death penalty is imminent.
The WHO apparently did not want to know about this. The population reacted “with courage and dedication”, it said. “No measures were taken in China that could not be implemented elsewhere,” Aylward even said in an interview.
He also reported that people in China have always told him that they are committed to the cause. “The alarm bells ring for me,” says Mareike Ohlberg from the Mercator Institute for Chinese Studies.
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The WHO statements she sees as strongly influenced by the interests of the Communist Party. “In my view, repeating the official statements by the Chinese government and the statements it has filtered heavily is disrespectful towards the people of Wuhan and those who are trying to document the crisis,” says Ohlberg.
Countries like South Korea and Taiwan are currently showing that more humane methods can be used to control the spread – others like the USA, on the other hand, have dramatic effects on inadequate crisis management.
“Authoritarianism is bad for health”
In an interview, WHO employee Aylward did not want to answer questions about Taiwan – which is not part of the WHO. He later treated Taiwan as a Beijing province. This “illustrates once again the pressure WHO has to face regarding the Taiwan issue,” says Ohlberg.
“We care for the poor,” Tedros said – WHO would not do politics. But their actions show the opposite.
Populists like US President Donald Trump take advantage of this. “The WHO really failed,” he said in a tweet, threatening to stop paying millions. The Federal Government, on the other hand, sees no problem when asked: The exchange with the WHO is “well-established and trusting”, a spokeswoman explains to the Tagesspiegel.
“We may never have a clear picture of how the virus spread,” says Sophie Richardson of Human Rights Watch. Who died, who received no treatment for why. The world lives with the consequences of the censorship of the Chinese state – something similar could happen again in the future. “From a human rights perspective, authoritarianism is bad for health.”
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