US passes virus buck to WHO amid own failure

By GT staff reporters Source:Global Times Published: 2020/4/8 20:48:40

World tired of US blame-game drama, urged to mitigate impact

File picture shows World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus speaks at a daily briefing in Geneva, Switzerland, on March 9, 2020. Photo: Xinhua

After US President Donald Trump passed the buck to China, former US president Barack Obama, Democrats and liberal media in the US he is now taking aim at the World Health Organization (WHO) due to his own failure to contain the novel coronavirus spread.

Threatening to cut US funding, blaming the WHO for being so-called China-centric and downplaying risks from China are misleading and contradict the facts, and such groundless accusations won't help the US government mitigate losses resulting from the coronavirus.

More calls have emerged urging the US government to stop the blame game and take responsibility for mishandling the pandemic, which has caused more than 12,000 deaths in the country. 

Coronavirus blame game 'a childish distraction'

Trump sharpened his criticism of the WHO several times on Tuesday with claims during a daily White House briefing, saying the specialized UN agency focused too much on China and issued inappropriate guidelines, then threatening to freeze funding for it. Faced with the accelerating pandemic in the country, Trump claimed that the WHO has been wrong about a lot of issues related to the novel coronavirus pneumonia (COVID-19). 

However, increasingly more people in both China and the US have criticized the US president, saying he should stop the blame game and instead focus more on how to mitigate coronavirus losses, as the US has now become the hardest-hit country in the world, and figuring out how to fix the government's botched approach in handling the crisis. .

Role of the WHO

Since the beginning of the outbreak, the WHO has been playing the role of blowing the whistle, issuing warnings and sharing experiences with countries and regions across the world.

From December 31, when the Chinese government reported a cluster of cases of pneumonia in Wuhan, Central China's Hubei Province, the WHO began to stay in close contact with Chinese authorities, monitor the situation and keep updating relevant development on its official website. 

From then on until Wednesday, the word "guidance" appeared 31 times on the WHO's "Rolling updates on coronavirus disease," as "response" showed up 76 times including 14 counts of "response plan," and "alert" mentioned nine times.

On the organization's website regarding "Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) news," one can find constant reports including updates of the situation in each continent and appeals such as "Every country needs to take bold actions to stop COVID-19." 

Despite all of the mentioned efforts above from the organization, including declaring COVID-19 as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEI in January, warning that the window of opportunity to contain the outbreak is "narrowing" and raising its global risk assessment for the novel coronavirus to "very high" from "high" in February, Trump paid little attention and even reportedly ignored the warning from a senior government advisor in late January, insisting that he was "not concerned" on March 7.

On March 10, WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus noted "the experience we have so far from China is that containment is possible," urging all other countries to step up measures.

Hans Kluge, regional director for Europe at the WHO, said on March 17 that European countries must triple their efforts to prevent the spread, noting a decline in the rate of new cases in China is evidence that bold action does work.

The WHO chief also said he was concerned that in some countries the level of political commitment and the actions taken demonstrate that the level of commitment doesn't match the threat level the world faces.

More countries have recognized the key role that the WHO plays in responding to this global health crisis, as it has been giving daily updates on the coronavirus situation, continuously monitoring and responding to the outbreak and calling for nations to jointly fight the battle through cooperation and information sharing. It also urged countries to work together in protecting health workers, enhancing preparation and advancing vaccine development, according to media reports. 

However, the Trump administration failed to listen to the advice of the WHO based on scientific assessments of the outbreak, and more people found out that the US is suffering now due to the president's arrogance, instead of taking responsibility, he has decided to blame others for his ill-preparation.

The biggest mistake the US made was failure to absorb comprehensive information on the coronavirus from countries and institutions worldwide while politicizing the pandemic, Zhou Zijun, a public health expert at Peking University, told the Global Times on Wednesday. 

"They simply thought preventing travelers from China would work and ignored warnings from experts. There were no follow-up policies on monitoring and preventing community spread and a massive outbreak," Zhou said. 

Trump claimed in a tweet on Tuesday that he rejected WHO advice "on keeping our borders open to China early on," claiming that the organization gave a faulty recommendation, which also contradicted the facts. 

The WHO declared the COVID-19 outbreak a global public health emergency of international concern on January 30, but did not suggest that other countries impose travel and trade restrictions on China. On January 31, by ignoring the WHO's suggestion, the US imposed a travel ban on foreign nationals who have been in China in the past 14 days, which did not help the US contain the viral spread in the country, but instead became a frequently mentioned argument by Trump in praising the administration for doing a great job in controlling the epidemic because it closed borders earlier. 

The ban applied only to those who had been in China during the previous 14 days without considering viral carriers from other countries and regions, and preventing only incoming arrivals from China turned out to be not effective at all, Zhou said. 

Under the current global pandemic situation, the US' plan to halt funding for the WHO will have a negative impact on international cooperation in fighting the pandemic, and China hopes all countries contribute to the global pandemic fight together, Zhao Lijian, spokesperson of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, told a press conference on Wednesday.

The WHO has also been playing a crucial role in countering stigmatization, calling for the globe to be united in overcoming this new disease, showing support for each other amid the outbreak. 

When Trump referred to COVID-19 as the "Chinese virus", fueling widespread xenophobia, racist sentiments and even physical and verbal attacks against Asian Americans in addition to undermining global efforts to contain the deadly virus, the WHO urged that governments and individuals should stop stigma and racist rhetoric. 

In another racist anecdote concerning two French professors who suggested testing coronavirus vaccine in Africa,which sparked controversy, WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus also condemned such a "colonial mentality", claiming that Africa won't be a laboratory ground for any vaccine.

The WHO's assistant director-general Bruce Aylward also apparently ignored a question asked by a Hong Kong reporter on the membership of the island of Taiwan to the organization, reflecting that the WHO, as part of the UN, does not recognize the island as a sovereign state, in line with the principles of the Charter of the UN, according to analysts. 

Margaret Chan Fung Fu-chun, former WHO Director-General, told the Global Times in a recent interview that every time a major epidemic occurs, the WHO would be criticized. "Some people are dissatisfied whether the warning is too early or too late," but the WHO has been responding to each epidemic with a scientific, objective and evidence-based attitude.

US President Donald Trump answers a question during the daily briefing on the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, at the White House on Wednesday in Washington, DC. Photo: AFP


Accusing the WHO of being China-centric is also a misleading claim, according to open information concerning the organization's structure. 

According to the WHO's official website, member states may propose candidates who are considered by the organization's Executive Board, which nominates one person by secret ballot. The name of that person is then submitted to the World Health Assembly, which makes the final appointment.

The WHO now has 43 expert advisory panels. In terms of regional distribution, 24 percent come from the Americas and 29 percent from the European region. Both make up the highest proportion compared with other regions, such as 11 percent from Africa, and 10 from Southeast Asia.

In order to better cope with COVID-19, the WHO-China Joint Mission on Coronavirus Disease 2019 was formed over a nine-day period from February 16 to 24. The team consisted of 25 national and international experts from China, Germany, Japan, South Korea, Nigeria, Russia, Singapore, the US and the WHO. 

The US is the single largest contributor to the WHO, whose assessed contribution is 22 percent of the total members' assessed contributions, according to media reports. 

However, the US government proposed a cut of the funding to the WHO by 53 percent in February, according to earlier media reports.  

It is mostly US media and politicians who have been sparing no effort to smear China, while little criticism toward China can be found on authoritative medical journals including The Lancet and the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), which has been focusing on the disease itself, treatment as well as prevention and control measures.

Science Magazine voiced "China's aggressive measures have slowed the coronavirus" as early as March 2. 

The article "From China: hope and lessons for COVID-19 control" of the Lancet, published on April 2, acknowledged China's measures "might have led to substantial reductions in transmission." It also articulated "China made difficult decisions with complex trade-offs between economic and social consequences… These decisions paved the way for other countries to design responses to COVID-19." 

However, some US politicians have been pointing the finger in all directions but their own. 

Senator Tom Cotton suggested the virus may have come from a Chinese research lab. Senator Rick Scott claimed "Communist China cannot be trusted" on the coronavirus. Senator Steve Daines asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to investigate China's role in covering up the outbreak. Pompeo himself, who has been dedicating himself to affixing the blame on China for the pandemic, made no contribution at all to coronavirus prevention and control in his own country.  

It was not only one expert who praised China's efforts in fighting the epidemic. The fact is that the country has done a good job, Chan, the former WHO Director-General noted. 

"More than ever in history, countries need solidarity and cooperation to overcome difficulties, rather than promoting xenophobia and racism. This time, viruses are our common enemy," she said.  

"Medical experts and scientists are trying to contain the spread of the virus while US politicians are trying to pin the blame onto others by concocting conspiracy theories. Yet in terms of the pandemic itself, be it the origin of the virus or measures to cope with it, who has the final say? Politicians or scientists?" Chinese observers asked. 

While doctors, scientists, and influencers are busy at solving problems amid the outbreak, American politicians are busy passing the buck, and the world appears to be tired of such old-fashioned drama, according to observers.

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