Amid criticism for being 'China-centric', the World Health Organization (WHO) insisted on Tuesday that it sounded the alarm on the novel coronavirus right from the very start and had hidden nothing from Washington about the deadly pandemic. WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said there were no secrets. His remarks came after the UN body was heavily accused by the United States for allegedly downplaying the initial COVID-19 outbreak in China.
"We have been warning from day one that this is a devil that everyone should fight," WHO chief told a virtual briefing in Geneva. He added that the presence of embedded US government secondees working at the WHO headquarters in Geneva meant there was nothing being concealed from Washington. "Having CDC staff means there is nothing hidden from the US, from day one. Because these are Americans working with us. It just comes naturally and they tell what they are doing," he added.
He also said, "WHO is open. We don't hide anything. Not only for CDC, them sending messages, or others -- we want all countries to get the same message immediately because that helps countries to prepare well and to prepare quickly."
The virus, which emerged late last year in the Chinese city of Wuhan, has so far infected more than 2.4 million people globally and killed more than 165,000. The United States has by far the highest death toll of any country, at more than 40,000 fatalities.
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The US State Department has said the WHO was too late in sounding the alarm over COVID-19 and is overly deferential to China. It questioned why it did not pursue a lead from Taiwan flagged up on December 31 about reports of atypical pneumonia in Wuhan Debate has raged over the significance of Taiwan's email, which informed the WHO of the reports from Wuhan, and of at least seven patients being isolated -- something that would not be necessary for a non-infectious disease.
The United States said it was "deeply disturbed that Taiwan's information was withheld from the global health community, as reflected in the WHO's January 14, 2020 statement that there was no indication of human-to-human transmission".
However, the WHO chief insisted that it was already aware of reports emanating from Wuhan - and said Taiwan's email was only seeking further information. "One thing that has to be clear is the first email was not from Taiwan. Many other countries were already asking for clarification. The first report came from Wuhan," said Tedros. "Taiwan didn't report any human-to-human transmission," he stressed.
Clarifying further, WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan said the email made no reference to anything beyond what had already been reported in news media."Clusters of atypical pneumonia are not uncommon. There are millions of cases of atypical pneumonia around the world in any given year," he explained. Ryan said that the WHO tweeted the existence of the event in Wuhan on January 4, and on January 5 provided "detailed information on the epidemic" which all countries could access.
After several warnings to the WHO, Trump on Wednesday halted US funding to the UN body after alleging mismanaging the coronavirus crisis. Trump has a number of times blamed WHO's "very much sided" approach to China on coronavirus crisis, asserting that many people are unhappy with the global health agency and feel that "it's been very unfair".
(with PTI inputs)