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WHO staff blocked early virus warning

A group of World Health Organisation (WHO) doctors voted not to declare a global health emergency for the COVID-19 virus earlier, as cases continued to grow in China.

An investigation by Sky News Australiadiscovered the decision of whether or not to implement the health emergency and introduce travel restrictions was put to a vote in late January, but those in favour of the early action were outvoted.

After this vote, WHO released a statement saying the Emergency Committee expressed "divergent views" on whether the virus constituted an international public health emergency.

It wasn't until a week later on January 30 that an international public health emergency was declared.

When asked by Sky News to name the doctors who voted against the public health emergency, WHO reportedly refused due to privacy issues.

"As for your question on voting at the EC: members are independent experts and rules of procedure do not allow us to disclose that," WHO spokesman Tarik Jašarević told the news outlet.

"Important to note that what happened between two meetings was the evidence of human to human transmission outside China."

When the health emergency was announced there were more than 12,000 suspected cases of the coronavirus in China alone.

In a statement on January 30, WHO praised the Chinese government for its "commitment to transparency, and the efforts made to investigate and contain the current outbreak".

"China quickly identified the virus and shared its sequence, so that other countries could diagnose it quickly and protect themselves, which has resulted in the rapid development of diagnostic tools," WHO said in the statement.

Despite the organisation's praise of China, many other countries and officials have criticised China over it's handling of the virus, claiming it delayed reporting the outbreak when it first occurred and has lied about the number of cases and deaths.

Just days before the statement praising China's handling of the virus was released, WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus met with China's President Xi Jinping in Beijing.

 

Tedros Adhanom, Director General of the World Health Organisation, (L) attends a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Picture: Naohiko Hatta/Getty Images
Tedros Adhanom, Director General of the World Health Organisation, (L) attends a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Picture: Naohiko Hatta/Getty Images

"We appreciate the seriousness with which China is taking this outbreak, especially the commitment from top leadership, and the transparency they have demonstrated, including sharing data and genetic sequence of the virus," Dr Tedros said at the time.

In early February Dr Tedros slammed countries including the US and Australia for inciting "fear and stigma" by denying entry to travellers from China, saying there was "no reason for measures that unnecessarily interfere with international travel and trade" and calling "on all countries to implement decisions that are evidence-based and consistent".

In a press conference that same month he hit back at a journalist's suggestion the WHO had been pressured to lavish "effusive praise" on China.

 

"China took action massively at the epicentre, at the source of the outbreak - the shutdown of Wuhan - and that helped in preventing cases from being exported to other provinces in China and the rest of the world," Dr Tedros said, noting that it had been described as "heroic".

WHO is now facing growing criticism over the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and its ties to the Chinese Communist Party.

A Change.org petition calling for the resignation of WHO Director-General Dr Tedros has reached more than 746,000 signatures.

This comes as US President Donald Trump said he would will put a hold on US funding to the World Health Organisation, saying "they missed the call" on the coronavirus pandemic.

He made the announcement at a White House press briefing on Tuesday, saying the organisation "called it wrong" and saying it seemed to be "very China-centric".

Originally published as WHO staff blocked early virus warning


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