FBI Director Christopher Wray on Tuesday said the bureau believes the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic was “most likely a potential lab incident” in Wuhan, China.
A BBC report said that there was still no consensus on the issue, and quoted David Robertson, head of viral genomics and bioinformatics at the University of Glasgow, as saying that SARS-CoV-2 likely jumped from animal to human.
As a member of the WHO, China should endeavor to determine the origins of the disease to prevent such a devastating global health crisis from recurring. However, Beijing has not demonstrated any resolve to meaningfully investigate the matter, and has even obstructed efforts by other WHO members to investigate it. It also delayed crucial information about the disease early in the pandemic, and presented misleading information about its handling of the initial outbreak.
The Associated Press (AP) on June 2, 2020, reported that China “sat on releasing the genetic map, or genome, of the virus for more than a week after three different government labs had fully decoded the information.” The AP also said it has recordings that “suggest WHO officials were lauding China in public because they wanted to coax more information out of the government.”
On Jan. 6, 2021, Bloomberg reported that Beijing was delaying a visit by world health experts to China to investigate the origins of the virus, and said the WHO had expressed disappointment over the delay.
Amid these obstructions, China has repeatedly attempted to change the narrative, often lashing out at the US. On May 26, 2021, then-Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Zhao Lijian (趙立堅) said that the US “does not care about facts or truth, and has zero interest in a serious science-based study of origins.”
Today, China is still deflecting and avoiding any serious investigation into the pandemic’s origin. In response to Wray’s comments, it accused Washington of “political manipulation.” China’s actions throughout the pandemic have shown that its influence over the WHO is detrimental to world health, as is Taiwan’s exclusion from the organization.
Taiwan was one of the first countries to record an imported case of COVID-19: A woman in her 50s was on Jan. 21, 2020, confirmed to be infected after returning to Taiwan from China. Prior to that, the Taiwanese government in December 2019 had sent a warning to the WHO, after gleaning reports of a growing number of cases of people in Wuhan with “atypical pneumonia-like” symptoms.
“On December 31, 2019, Taiwan sent an e-mail to the International Health Regulations (IHR) focal point under the World Health Organization (WHO), informing the WHO of its understanding of the disease, and also requesting further information from the WHO,” the Centers for Disease Control said.
Of course, Chinese authorities did not provide any useful information to Taiwan, as they did not even provide such information to the Chinese public, or the WHO. Beijing also pressured the WHO not to cooperate with Taiwan during the pandemic, saying it was already “taking care” of Taiwan’s health interests.
The challenges Taiwan faced during the early stages of the pandemic demonstrate that it must be properly represented at the WHO, and the manner in which Taiwan overcame those challenges is evidence of the contributions it can make to the global body.
There will be other pandemics, and before they occur, it is of great interest to world health that China’s influence over the WHO be reined in, and that all countries be properly represented, without coercion, at the WHO.
The government should work with the US on seeking an amendment to the UN charter, so that even disputed countries and territories can participate equally in the WHO. World health must come before politics.
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