May 22, 2020 / 12:59 PM / 3 days ago

U.S. demands review of WHO's handling of pandemic starts now, seeks reforms

GENEVA (Reuters) - The United States called on the World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday to begin work immediately on investigating the source of the novel coronavirus, as well as its handling of the response to the pandemic.

U.S. President Donald Trump, who has accused the agency of being “China centric”, threatened in a tweeted letter to WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Monday to permanently halt funding if the WHO did not commit to improvements within 30 days, and to reconsider his country’s membership of the agency.

More than 5.12 million cases of COVID-19 have been reported worldwide, including 332,0526 deaths, since the virus emerged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year, according to the latest Reuters tally.

The WHO’s executive board of 34 member states, including the United States, held a three-hour session on Friday.

Admiral Brett P. Giroir, U.S. Assistant Secretary for Health, told the board in a written statement: “As President Trump just made clear in his May 18 letter to Director-General Tedros, there is no time to waste to begin on the reforms needed to ensure such a pandemic never happens again.

“We applaud the call for an impartial, independent, and comprehensive review to be undertaken in consultation with Member States and urge that work begin now,” he said.

Giroir was referring to a resolution presented by the European Union that was unanimously adopted by the WHO’s annual ministerial assembly of 194 states on Tuesday that called for a thorough evaluation “at the earliest appropriate moment”.

“This review will ensure we have a complete and transparent understanding of the source, timeline of events, and decision-making process for the WHO’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.

When the WHO Assembly resumes in the autumn, it must address the outcome of the review process, reforms to strengthen the WHO, “including the ability of Taiwan to participate as an observer”, Giroir added.

Taiwan lobbied hard to be included as an observer at the two-day assembly and received strong support from the United States, Japan and others, but says it was not invited due to opposition from China. China considers Taiwan a breakaway province with no right to the trappings of a sovereign state.

Tedros has always promised a post-pandemic review and “accountability”.

FILE PHOTO: Director-General of the WHO Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, attends a news conference on the coronavirus (COVID-2019) in Geneva, Switzerland February 24, 2020. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/File Photo

In remarks to the board, Tedros said that the WHO had worked non-stop since the coronavirus emerged, informing all member states of its evolution and providing technical advice.

“WHO has worked day and night to coordinate the global response at all three levels of the organisation, providing technical advice, catalysing political solidarity, mobilising resources, coordinating resources and much more,” he said.

“So far almost $800 million has been pledged or received towards WHO’s appeal for COVID-19 programmes, leaving a gap of just over $900 million,” he said.

Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Catherine Evans and Nick Macfie

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