Last week, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General, World Health Organisation (WHO) had stated at a global online media briefing that there has been a premature push to rule out that the virus might have escaped from Chinese government lab in Wuhan.
He further shockingly expressed that investigating the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic in China was being hampered by the lack of raw data on the first days of the spread in Wuhan and urged China to be transparent, open and to cooperate.
It is arguably the first-time since the onset of the global COVID-19 pandemic in the month of January last year that Dr Tedros has questioned the role of China and even opened up to a discussion on the theory that the coronavirus might have escaped from the Wuhan Virology Lab in China.
WHO posted China’s Coronavirus Report As Is
On April 6, 2020, I had questioned Dr. Tedros in a one-question interview during the global media briefing in Geneva. I asked him, “On January 14th, 2020 W.H.O stated ‘Preliminary investigations conducted by the Chinese authorities have found no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission of the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) identified in Wuhan, China.’ As an independent global health organization why did WHO have to rely on China’s preliminary investigations into the human-to-human transmission possibility of the coronavirus and not conduct one of its own investigations?
To which Dr. Tedros replied, “The rule we have in WHO and other UN agencies is when a member state reports we post the member state report as is. What we did on January 14th on Twitter is we posted China’s report as is. That doesn’t mean that we agree or we disagree; we’re just reporting what came. If India reports we post India’s report as is. If my own country, Ethiopia, reports we post the report that came from Ethiopia as is and we treat the same way all 194 member states.
But when we post their reports on our Twitter or website or wherever we just put it as-is and we don’t change anything. But at the same time, if we have some differences with what is reported, we can say it. Before January 13th Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove and other colleagues were saying, there is a likelihood of human-to-human transmission. Even on January 14th Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove and other colleagues were briefing journalists and they said, there is a likelihood of human-to-human transmission. Our guidance reflected all that.
When China officially reported that it discovered human-to-human transmission on January 22nd we just reported again exactly as we received it from China. That’s a normal procedure and we do it for any country but that doesn’t mean that we accept or not and we express our own opinion. The most important thing is our guidance before, during 14th, and after actually included the likelihood of human-to-human transmission. That helped countries to prepare.”
Dr Tedros sings ‘China’s’ praises
When on a visit to China and after his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Dr Tedros told the media that it (China) has already done incredible things to limit the transmission of the virus to other countries. And where respect is due, then you don’t punish. Meaning if anyone is thinking about taking measures, it’s going to be wrong. And WHO doesn’t recommend, and actually opposes, any restrictions for travel and trade or other measures against China.
He further expressed, “I think visiting China was a very important one, which is not a new one. Of course, I did it many times to other countries where there were outbreaks and so on. This one was special because I was able to learn many things from what China is doing. And I’m very confident by what they’re doing. I have seen the capacity, and I believe that they will control this outbreak as soon as possible. They have all the capacity that needs.
But not only what they’re doing is protecting their people, but I know from the figures also, you know that it’s protecting the rest of the world. Outside China, we only have 98 cases and no deaths. If strong measures were not taken in China this would not have happened. And that’s why I also said we have to appreciate what China is doing. And this declaration is not actually because China is not doing what it can. It’s actually doing more than China is required to do.”
Changing the Timelines
From the onset of the pandemic China has been evasive and the WHO toeing the line of China.
The Country Office notified the International Health Regulations (IHR) focal point in the WHO Western Pacific Regional Office about the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission’s media statement of the cases and provided a translation of it. WHO’s Epidemic Intelligence from Open Sources (EIOS) platform also picked up a media report on ProMED (a program of the International Society for Infectious Diseases) about the same cluster of cases of “pneumonia of unknown cause”, in Wuhan.
Several health authorities from around the world contacted WHO seeking additional information. It is interesting to note that this new timeline was issued six days after China used its media to respond to the interim version of this report. After fielding a question from China National Radio, Zhao Lijian, referenced above for spreading disinformation regarding the source of Covid-19 via Twitter, laid out a new timeline for the CCP’s response to Covid-19. In his comments, he conceded that the China engagement with the WHO began on 3 January.
This transparency was short-lived. In early July 2020, Zhao reverted back to the previous claim, stating, “On 31 December 2019, the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission released a statement on the situation of pneumonia in the city on its official website. China reported to the WHO at the earliest time possible. This fact cannot be clearer.”
The World Health Organisation (WHO) altered its timelines that it had officially published on April 27, 2020 to favor China in its revised timelines in June 2020.
31 Dec 2019
Wuhan Municipal Health Commission, China, reported a cluster of cases of pneumonia in Wuhan, Hubei Province. A novel coronavirus was eventually identified.
1 January 2020
WHO had set up the IMST (Incident Management Support Team) across the three levels of the organization: headquarters, regional headquarters and country level, putting the organization on an emergency footing for dealing with the outbreak.
4 January 2020
WHO reported on social media that there was a cluster of pneumonia cases – with no deaths – in Wuhan, Hubei province.
5 January 2020
WHO published our first disease outbreak news on the new virus. This is a flagship technical publication to the scientific and public health community as well as global media. It contained a risk assessment and advice and reported on what China had told the organization about the status of patients and the public health response on the cluster of pneumonia cases in Wuhan.
Intriguingly, in its COVID-19 Timeline published on June 30, 2020, WHO altered the data and stated the following:
31 Dec 2019
WHO’s Country Office in the People’s Republic of China picked up a media statement by the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission from their website on cases of ‘viral pneumonia’ in Wuhan, People’s Republic of China.
The Country Office notified the International Health Regulations (IHR) focal point in the WHO Western Pacific Regional Office about the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission media statement of the cases and provided a translation of it.
WHO’s Epidemic Intelligence from Open Sources (EIOS) platform also picked up a media report on ProMED (a program of the International Society for Infectious Diseases) about the same cluster of cases of “pneumonia of unknown cause” in Wuhan.
Several health authorities from around the world contacted WHO seeking additional information. Here is the alteration of timelines published in June 2020:
1 January 2020
WHO requested information on the reported cluster of atypical pneumonia cases in Wuhan from the Chinese authorities.
WHO activated its Incident Management Support Team (IMST), as part of its emergency response framework, which ensures coordination of activities and response across the three levels of WHO (Headquarters, Regional, Country) for public health emergencies.
2 January 2020
The WHO Representative in China wrote to the National Health Commission, offering WHO support and repeating the request for further information on the cluster of cases.
WHO informed Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network (GOARN) partners about the cluster of pneumonia cases in the People’s Republic of China. GOARN partners include major public health agencies, laboratories, sister UN agencies, international organizations and NGOs.
3 January 2020
Chinese officials provided information to WHO on the cluster of cases of ‘viral pneumonia of unknown cause’ identified in Wuhan.
4 January 2020
WHO tweeted that there was a cluster of pneumonia cases – with no deaths – in Wuhan, Hubei province, People’s Republic of China, and that investigation to identify the cause was underway.
5 January 2020
WHO shared detailed information about a cluster of cases of pneumonia of unknown cause through the IHR (2005) Event Information System, which is accessible to all Member States. The event notice provided information on the cases and advised the Member States to take precautions to reduce the risk of acute respiratory infections.
WHO also issued its first disease outbreak news report. This is a public, web-based platform for the publication of technical information addressed to the scientific and public health communities, as well as global media. The report contained information about the number of cases and their clinical status; details about the Wuhan national authority’s response measures; and WHO’s risk assessment and advice on public health measures. It advised that “WHO’s recommendations on public health measures and surveillance of influenza and severe acute respiratory infections still apply”.
The WHO has repeatedly published incomplete information that has been exploited by the CCP to further their propaganda and disinformation efforts. The December 31st, 2019 entry in the WHO’s official timeline of the COVID-19 pandemic reads: “Wuhan Municipal Health Commission, China, reported a cluster of cases of pneumonia in Wuhan, Hubei Province.”
The press release issued by the WHO on January 5, 2020 states that “the WHO China Country Office was informed of cases of pneumonia of unknown etiology (unknown cause) detected in Wuhan City, Hubei Province of China.” Conveniently, it leaves out the fact that the WHO China Country Office was “informed” by the WHO headquarters in Geneva – not PRC health authorities.
WHO Public Health Emergency Call
According to German Intelligence (BND), China had urged the World Health Organization to delay a global warning. On January 21, China’s head of state Xi Jinping during a phone call with WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus asked to withhold information about a person-to-person transmission and to postpone a pandemic warning.
Interestingly, on January 23, 2020, Dr Tedros told the media, “I’m not declaring a Public Health Emergency of International Concern today. As it was yesterday, the Emergency Committee was divided over whether the outbreak of novel coronavirus represents a PHEIC or not. Make no mistake, this is though an emergency in China. But it has not yet become a global health emergency. It may yet become one. WHO’s risk assessment is that the outbreak is very high risk in China, and high risk regionally and globally. 584 cases have now been reported to WHO, including 17 deaths. 575 of those cases and all of the deaths have been reported in China, with other cases reported in Japan, the Republic of Korea, Singapore, Thailand, The United States of America, and Vietnam. We’re aware of the media reports of suspected cases in other countries, but those cases are still being investigated. We know that there is human-to-human transmission in China, but for now it appears limited to family groups and health workers caring for infected patients. At this time, there is no evidence of human-to-human transmission outside China. But that doesn’t mean it won’t happen. There is still a lot we don’t know. We don’t know the source of this virus. We don’t understand how easily it spreads. And we don’t fully understand its clinical features or severity.”
On April 23, 2020, I had an opportunity of one-question interview with Dr. Tedros, yet again. I asked him: “If Dr. Tedros had an opportunity to rewind back the last couple of weeks when we’ve been going through the coronavirus pandemic and certain decisions that were taken by the World Health Organization would he have called the coronavirus a pandemic earlier? That is my question. If he had the opportunity to rewind and go back would WHO have called the pandemic earlier than it did, much later?”
Dr. Tedros replied, “Yes, thank you. I would like to add to that. I think my colleagues have already said; based on the IHR 2005 what is expected from WHO is declaring the Public Health Emergency of International Concern as early as possible based on the factors and as Mike said, the highest emergency as far as International Health Regulations is concerned was declared on January 30th.
During that time, as Maria said, there were fewer than 100 cases and to be specific 82 confirmed cases on January 30th.
Outside China. Of course, in China, we had more cases but outside China, we had only 82 cases and most of these cases were actually in the neighborhood and most of them – since they’re in the neighborhood – the rest of the world was still reporting no cases. We had few in Europe and I can read that for you, what was reported from Europe; we had five from France, one from Finland, four from Germany; that makes nine – ten actually, ten cases in Europe when we declared a Global Emergency.
In Africa, we didn’t have any cases. From the Middle East, the United Arab Emirates had four cases so you can see it for yourself. We triggered the highest level of emergency when the rest of the world had only 82 cases and no deaths.
Then to add to that, a Global Emergency is discussed among experts, it’s not just one Director-General who just comes out and declares. We have experts representing all over the whole world coming together as experts and discussing and they met on 23rd January. They couldn’t agree; they were divided.
Then of course they continued for a second day but still, they couldn’t agree. Of course, they agreed to meet in six, seven days and then met for a second time on January 30th, when, based on the criteria we have, they were convinced that the criteria were met to declare this a Global Emergency.
So I want to be clear again; the most important thing which is expected as a declaration from WHO is the Global Emergency declaration on January 30th and that was declared based on expert opinion that was drawn from all over the world, from experts who used the criteria to recommend to me that this was already a global emergency and that consensus led to a declaration of Global Emergency from WHO, which I announced myself.
So looking back I think we declared the Emergency at the right time and when the world had enough time to respond when the rest of the world had enough time to respond. I repeat again, there were only 82 cases and no deaths. That was enough to cut it at the bud, enough. That was January 30th and this was more than two months and 21 days ago, close to three months now.”
Six Weeks Delay: From Public Health Emergency to Pandemic
On January 30, 2020 IHR Emergency Committee arrived at a consensus and Dr Tedros declares the novel coronavirus as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.
Dr Tedros further asserted that the vast majority of cases outside China have a travel history to Wuhan, or contact with someone with a travel history to Wuhan.
He further added, “We would have seen many more cases outside China by now-and probably deaths – if it were not the government’s (referring to China) efforts and the progress they have made to protect their own people and the people of the world.”
On March 11, 2020 Dr Tedros categorized the novel coronavirus as a ‘Pandemic’
He stated: “There are now more than 118,000 cases in 114 countries, and 4,291 people have lost their lives. Thousands more are fighting for their lives in hospitals.In the days and weeks ahead, we expect to see the number of cases, the number of deaths, and the number of affected countries climb even higher.
WHO has been assessing this outbreak around the clock and we are deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity, and by the alarming levels of inaction. We have therefore made the assessment that COVID-19 can be characterized as a pandemic.
Pandemic is not a word to use lightly or carelessly. It is a word that, if misused, can cause unreasonable fear, or unjustified acceptance that the fight is over, leading to unnecessary suffering and death.”
The categorization of the COVID-19 as a pandemic came six weeks after the declaration of the Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). Travel from Wuhan, China to rest of the world continued while travel from Wuhan to China were restricted on January 23, 2020.
On March 11, 2020, Dr Tedros also stated, “We have never before seen a pandemic sparked by a coronavirus. This is the first pandemic caused by a coronavirus.And we have called every day for countries to take urgent and aggressive action.We have rung the alarm bell loud and clear.”
It was only after the categorization of the PHEIC as a pandemic, that 95 governments within the next three weeks initiated a partial or full lockdown in their countries.
I asked the WHO, “PHEIC was declared on Jan 30, 2020 but COVID-19 was termed a pandemic on March 11th. Most countries took the coronavirus threat seriously post the declaration of it being a pandemic. What is the difference between PHEIC and Pandemic and why did WHO not declare it as a pandemic on Jan 30, 2020?
I was told by Tarik Jasaveric, spokesperson of the WHO that within WHO, the highest level public health alert is the declaration of a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. ‘Pandemic’ is not an alert level used by WHO under its emergency response framework and does not have any operational significance within WHO.
On March 11th, deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity, and by the alarming levels of inaction, WHO made the assessment that the new coronavirus COVID-19 could be characterised as a pandemic.
But the 2013 Guidance followed by WHO it states the following:
As a result of lessons learned from the influenza A(H1N1) 2009 pandemic, the 2013 Guidance revises WHO’s approach to global phases of pandemic events. The phases include the inter-pandemic phase (the period between influenza pandemics); the alert phase (when influenza caused by a new subtype has been identified in humans); the pandemic phase (the period of global spread); and the transition phase (the de-escalation phase). These global phases are to be used to describe a new influenza subtype’s spread, “taking account of the disease it causes, around the world,” and are “clearly uncoupled from risk management decisions and actions at the country level.”
The global phases and their application in risk management are distinct from (1) the determination of a PHEIC under the IHR (2005); and (2) the declaration of a pandemic based on assessment of the risk associated with the emerging influenza virus. These are based upon specific assessments and can be used for communicating the need for collective global action, or by regulatory bodies and/or for legal or contractual agreements, should they be based on a determination of a PHEIC or a pandemic declaration.
Determination of a PHEIC: The responsibility of determining a PHEIC lies with the WHO Director-General under Article 12 of the IHR (2005). The determination of a PHEIC leads to the communication of temporary recommendations.
Declaration of a pandemic: During the period of spread of human influenza caused by a new subtype, based on risk assessment and appropriate to the situation, the WHO Director-General may make a declaration of a pandemic.
Virus Happened Naturally
On September 27, 2020, Dr. Tedros when questioned that the COVID-19 pandemic came from China at the global media briefing, said, “The virus has happened naturally. These are all the publications we know, and if there is anything that will change this, it should come through the proper scientific process.
Early last year, when Dr. Tedros was repeatedly question on his closeness on China by media, he expressed, “I cannot say they hid or they didn’t. If something is hidden, the world would have witnessed more cases spilling outside its border, given how connected China is to the rest of the world. But the number of cases is very small. Even if China hides it, I don’t think the cases would be prevented from crossing the borders to other countries. So it really defeats the logic.”
China’s puppet – WHO
Professor Lawrence Gostin of Global Heath at the Georgetown University opined that he and other global experts were deceived by the statements of China and the WHO.
The WHO knew China was not fulfilling its duties under the IHR.
“This is exactly the same scenario as SARS, endlessly trying to get updates from China about what was going on. WHO barely got out of that one with its neck intact given the issues that arose around transparency in southern China,” expressed Dr. Michael Ryan, Executive Director of the WHO’s Health Emergencies Program.
Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s Technical Lead for the COVID-19 in a media briefing stated, “We’re going on very minimal information. It’s clearly not enough for you to do proper planning.” – Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s technical lead for COVID-19.
It is evidently clear that Director-General Tedros was not prepared for this pandemic and did not base his decisions on the available scientific evidence. A further investigation into the full extent of China’s influence at the WHO and the WHO’s tragic mishandling is fully warranted, but also fully challenged by the lack of information provided by the WHO and China. A key example of this surrounds the confirmation that SARS-CoV-2 was spreading by human- to-human transmission. On January 13th, a news release by the WHO regarding the confirmation of a COVID-19 case in Thailand read in part, “there has been no suggestion of human-to-human transmission.”
On January 14th, the WHO issued a “disease outbreak news” release that stated, “based on the available information, there is no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission.”
On January 21st, China’s National Health Commission finally conceded that human-to-human transmission was occurring. The next day, the WHO published a report from its China field office that confirmed that human-to-human transmission was occurring.
But on April 13th in a media briefing, WHO’s COVID-19 Technical Lead, Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, said:
Right from the start, from the first notification we received on the 31st of December, given that this was a cluster of pneumonia — I’m a MERS specialist, so my background is in coronaviruses and influenza — so immediately thought, given that this is a respiratory pathogen, that of course there may be human-to-human transmission.
It is hard to reconcile the WHO’s own Technical Lead saying that on December 31st she knew that “of course” human-to-human transmission could be occurring with the WHO’s January 13th statement that “there has been no suggestion of human-to-human transmission.”
After the United States instituted travel restrictions on January 31st, Director-General Tedros said travel restrictions “unnecessarily interfere with international travel and trade.”This is despite the millions of Chinese citizens traveling abroad for the Spring Festival and Director-General Tedros’ repeated praise of the CCP’s response to COVID-19, which included travel restrictions, both internationally and domestically. As China continued to report small numbers of new cases, the WHO delayed declaring COVID-19 a pandemic until March 11th, despite the virus spreading globally weeks before.
Unfortunately, it has become clear that Director-General Tedros’ choice to follow the path of deference failed to achieve its goals. However, the China’s abject failures to abide by its international obligations do not excuse the failures of the WHO leadership to fulfill the organization’s mandate to investigate and respond to global health emergencies.
It only means the WHO willfully ignored their own experts, or they deferred continually to China’s pressure