WHO sets up independent panel to assess global coronavirus response

WHO sets up independent panel to assess global coronavirus response
© getty: World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

The World Health Organization on Thursday announced the formation of a panel to lead an investigation and assessment of how the world responded to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The panel, which will choose the investigators for the review, will be expected to provide an interim report of its investigation by November.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement the world deserves an evaluation for its handling of the pandemic and that now is the time for self-reflection.

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“This is a time for self-reflection, to look at the world we live in and to find ways to strengthen our collaboration as we work together to save lives and bring this pandemic under control,” he said. “The magnitude of this pandemic, which has touched virtually everyone in the world, clearly deserves a commensurate evaluation.”

The panel is being co-chaired by former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark and former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

Clark is the former president of the United Nations Development Program, and Sirleaf is a Nobel Peace Prize laureate. They will choose other members of the panel and an independent secretariat to provide support, the WHO said in a statement.

More than half a million people globally have died from COVID-19, according to the most recent statistics by the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. It has been more than seven months since the first cases were identified in Wuhan, China.

The U.S. is currently leading the world in the most confirmed cases of COVID-19, with more than 3 million cases. Brazil, India and Russia have among the top four highest case counts, respectively, and there are more than 12 million cases of COVID-19 globally today, according to Johns Hopkins.

Member states of the WHO voted in May on a resolution drafted by the European Union, first proposed by Australia, calling for an independent investigation into the coronavirus outbreak.

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Chinese officials pushed back at what it perceived as Australia singling out Beijing as being responsible for the spread of COVID-19 but have since said that they will allow independent investigators into the country.

"The Chinese government has agreed to WHO sending experts to Beijing to exchange ideas with Chinese scientists and medical experts on science-based cooperation to trace the origin of the virus," foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said on Wednesday.

Arthur Sinodinos, Australian ambassador to the U.S., said the goal is to learn the lessons of what happened and how to prevent such an outbreak from happening again.

“Our view was that this should not be seen as just a cross-examination of China. I could understand how the Chinese might feel a bit defensive about this,” he said, speaking in a virtual event hosted by the Atlantic Council on Tuesday, “but at the end of the day this was really an exercise in asking the question, what happened, how did it happen, how can we do things better in the future?”

The Trump administration is the most vocal critic of what responsibility China holds for the spread of COVID-19, and President TrumpDonald John TrumpMark Kelly clinches Democratic Senate nod in Arizona Trump camp considering White House South Lawn for convention speech: reports Longtime Rep. Lacy Clay defeated in Missouri Democratic primary MORE has initiated the process to withdraw from the WHO based on criticism that the organization is biased toward China.

Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoEstablishment-backed Marshall defeats Kobach in Kansas GOP Senate primary Biden offers well wishes to Lebanon after deadly explosion Overnight Defense: Marines find human remains after training accident | Fourth service member killed by COVID-19 | Pompeo huddles with Taliban negotiator MORE has further criticized China, accusing Beijing of covering up the threat of the virus and saying the government has failed to answer questions about the origin of the outbreak.

In a briefing with reporters on Wednesday, Pompeo called it “great” that China has agreed to allow WHO investigators into the country but stressed the global health body “needs to be free to do its real work.”

“We need to make sure the right people are there to engage in this investigation, and we need real answers, not a perfunctory political solution,” he said. “This is about science, not politics, and the Chinese Communist Party needs to come clean with the world about this virus.”