COMMENT

The World Health Organisation is facing growing criticism for its handling of the coronavirus pandemic and its ties to the Chinese Communist Party.

A Change.org petition calling for the resignation of WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has nearly reached 700,000 signatures.

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From criticising travel bans and repeating China's claims in mid-January that the virus cannot be transmitted between humans, to blindly accepting the regime's likely fake statistics, the WHO and Tedros have consistently toed the line of the Communist regime.

Novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) Video / World Health Organization (WHO)

The WHO declined to classify the new coronavirus a pandemic until March 11, when there were already more than 120,000 confirmed cases throughout 114 countries and nearly 4400 deaths.

Despite clear evidence of Chinese authorities covering up the beginnings of the outbreak in Wuhan – detaining doctors and journalists who attempted to sound the alarm – Tedros has lavished praise on Chinese President Xi Jinping, hailing the "transparency" of the country's "top leadership".

"We appreciate the seriousness with which China is taking this outbreak," he said in a statement on January 28.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, second left, speaks during a news conference on updates regarding on the novel coronavirus. AP Photo / Salvatore Di Nolfi, Keystone
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, second left, speaks during a news conference on updates regarding on the novel coronavirus. AP Photo / Salvatore Di Nolfi, Keystone

In early February, 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, 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," Tedros said, noting that it had been described as "heroic".

"What's wrong with acknowledging this? Because they're saying the actions of China are making us safer. We should tell the truth and that's the truth. China doesn't need to ask to be praised and I don't expect any country asks to be praised."

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Last month, Tedros unquestioningly repeated China's claim that it had reported no new Covid-19 cases that day for the first time. "This is an amazing achievement, which gives us all reassurance that the coronavirus can be beaten," he tweeted.

The WHO was also vocal in criticising conservatives' usage of the terms "Chinese virus" or "Wuhan virus", which were widely accepted and repeated by media in the early days of the outbreak before it was renamed Covid-19.

US President Donald Trump drew criticism for pointedly using the term after a concerted Chinese disinformation campaign – even involving high-ranking diplomats – began spreading the baseless conspiracy theory that the coronavirus was actually created by the CIA.

"It comes from China," Trump told reporters. "I want to be accurate."

The organisation's apparent deference to China was embarrassingly highlighted earlier this week when WHO official Dr Bruce Aylward pretended not to hear a question about Taiwan during an interview with a Hong Kong journalist, before referring to it as one of the "areas of China".

Aylward, who led the WHO mission to China in late February to study its response to the outbreak, has repeatedly been featured in Chinese propaganda after telling reporters, "If I had Covid-19, I'd want to be treated in China."

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On Tuesday, Republican Senator Rick Scott called for a Congressional hearing to investigate the WHO's role in helping China cover up the outbreak.

"The mission of the WHO is to get public health information to the world so every country can make the best decisions to keep their citizens safe," Scott said in a statement.

"When it comes to coronavirus, the WHO failed. They need to be held accountable for their role in promoting misinformation and helping Communist China cover up a global pandemic. We know Communist China is lying about how many cases and deaths they have, what they knew and when they knew it – and the WHO never bothered to investigate further. Their inaction cost lives."

Scott suggested the US, which is the single largest contributor to the WHO's annual budget at 15 per cent, should review "whether American taxpayers should continue to spend millions of dollars every year to fund an organisation that wilfully parroted propaganda from the Chinese Communist Party".

The issue is increasingly gaining traction among conservative commentators.

Sky News host and News Corp columnist Rita Panahi described the WHO's "complicity" in the pandemic as "shocking".

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"From the start, the WHO has unequivocally praised China's response and pushed its absurd narratives while ignoring the regime's dishonesty and recklessness," she told viewers.

"[The WHO] refused to declare a pandemic until March 11th. And, as late as February, it was parroting China in criticising travel restrictions. Don't forget that when Scott Morrison and Donald Trump implemented travel bans against China in late January, they did so against WHO's advice."

Covid19.govt.nz: The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website

In an opinion piece published in The Hill last month, University of Texas political science professor Bradley Thayer and Citizen Power Initiatives for China vice-president Lianchao Han noted "China's connections to Tedros' homeland of Ethiopia, now called East Africa's 'Little China' because it has become China's bridgehead to influence Africa and a key to China's Belt and Road initiative there".

"Indeed, China has invested heavily in Ethiopia," they wrote.

Tedros was heavily criticised in 2017 after attempting to appoint then-Zimbabwe dictator Robert Mugabe as a WHO goodwill ambassador.

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Thayer and Han argued the WHO's handling of the coronavirus showed Tedros was "not fit to lead the WHO" and that he, like President Xi, "should be held accountable for recklessly managing this deadly pandemic".

"Because of his leadership, the world may have missed a critical window to halt the pandemic or mitigate its virulence," they wrote.