WHO to begin independent inquiry into its handling of coronavirus pandemic

The 'Resolution on COVID 19 Response' calls for a review of the coronavirus origin with the aim to put an end to the international blame game about its origin and the response.

May 19, 2020 14:09 IST
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The World Health Organisation will be initiating an independent review into its handling of the coronavirus pandemic. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, while speaking at the 73rd World Health Assembly on May 18, assured that WHO is committed to transparency and hence, will initiate an independent review of its response to the deadly virus outbreak.

The announcement comes after a coalition of over 116 nations including India backed a resolution, that was drafted by the European Union to call for an independent inquiry into the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed over 3 lakh people globally.  The motion 'Resolution on COVID 19 Response' calls for a review of the coronavirus origin with the aim to put an end to the international blame game about its origin and the response. The motion does not seek to blame a particular country but it seeks to understand the origin of the virus- whether it came from primarily.

Currently, the available information reveals that the coronavirus is a zoonotic disease, which is spread from animals to humans. Since its outbreak in Wuhan, China, the COVID-19 virus has spread rapidly across the world and different countries have adopted different ways to tackle the crisis, which will also be a part of the investigation. 

Resolution on COVID 19 Response

The “Resolution on COVID 19 Response” stated that the co-sponsoring nations are deeply concerned by the high rate of morbidity and mortality caused by COVID-19 pandemic, as well the negative impacts of the virus on physical, mental health and social well-being of the people. The resolution also expresses concern over the negative impact of COVID-19 on the economy and society.

Key Highlights

•  The European Union putting forward the draft resolution before the World Health Assembly on May 18. The motion in the draft resolution requests WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to work closely with the World Organisation for Animal Health, FAO of United Nations and countries to identify the zoonotic source of the virus.

•  The resolution lists out a whole range of steps that need to be taken in relation to COVID-19, which includes a review among them and examination of the origins of the coronavirus.

•  The motion also requests examination of the route of transmission of the virus to the human population, including the possible role of intermediate hosts.

•  It also carries suggestions to WHO to conduct “scientific and collaborative field missions” to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection in animals and humans to discover the origins of the virus. 

•  The independent inquiry motion does not specify a particular method for inquiry. It suggests the existing mechanisms for review. The review will then make recommendations to improve global pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response capacity.
 
•  While the inquiry motion does not particularly mention the origins of the coronavirus, it calls on the actions of the World Health Organisation and their timelines pertaining to the COVID-19 pandemic to be one of the issues examined.

•  It will task the WHO with launching an evaluation at the earliest to review the “lessons learned” from the deadly pandemic.

Significance

The comprehensive draft resolution is co-sponsored by Australia, The resolution seeks examination of the origin of coronavirus pandemic, including which animals it passed through before infecting humans. 

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said that the nation was very encouraged by the growing level of support for its inquiry motion. She said if the motion is passed, it will mark a major strategic victory for Australia. 

She further stated that while the review does not specifically mention the origin of the virus, its source will not escape international scrutiny. She revealed that Australia had specifically requested the international coronavirus review to be described as “impartial, independent and comprehensive” in the motion drafted by the EU.

She said that she was confident that the World Health Organisation will conduct the review in a way that it did not escape appropriate scrutiny itself. However, she said that the nation is aware that the review’s timing would depend on how other countries were coping with the pandemic, as some are at the peak of the crisis and some are yet to experience the level. 

How many countries support the coronavirus inquiry?

A coalition of almost 16 countries has signed up to support Australia’s call for an international COVID-19 inquiry at the World Health Assembly. The draft resolution has 116 co-sponsors now including India, EU nations, entire African Group and Australia, Russia, Japan and the United Kingdom. The draft resolution is expected to be the most controversial motion. 

Countries supporting the motion

The countries backing the draft resolution at the WHA include Albania, Australia, Bangladesh, Belarus, Bhutan, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Djibouti, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guyana, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Maldives, Mexico, Monaco, Montenegro, New Zealand, North Macedonia, Norway, Paraguay, Peru, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Republic of Moldova, Russian Federation, San Marino, Saudi Arabia, the African Group and its Member States, the European Union and its Member States, Tunisia, Turkey, Ukraine and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

US, China express no-objection

The United States has not extended its support to the independent inquiry but it has expressed its no-objection the matter. China is also not its signatory but it also expressed its no-objection.  The US was the first nation to question WHO's performance and response to the coronavirus pandemic and China's handing of the early stages of the crisis.

World Health Assembly 

The World Health Assembly is WHO's decision-making body. The assembly witnesses participation from delegation from all WHO member states. The primary focus of the assembly is the specific health agenda that is prepared by its Executive Board. The World Health Assembly is convened annually in Geneva after the meeting of its Executive Board.

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