By A. Sivapathasundaram –
Need for Truth
To paraphrase the words “To be, or not to be, that is the question” in the opening phrase of a soliloquy uttered by Prince Hamlet in William Shakespeare’s play ‘Hamlet’, I too ask, “To write or not to write, that is the question”.
The reason is, there seems to be a tendency these days to immediately slot any expression of thoughts or perceptions in words, into pro or anti US or China (or pro or anti President Trump or President Xi Jinpeng) line, without due evaluation.
Unfortunately, this dangerous state of affairs results in no effort for search, analysis and dissection to find the truth. Any possibility of truth emerging is quickly buried in the avalanche of inter power and economic rivalry – nowadays, less by the might of arms but more by the might of money and propaganda.
What the world now undergoing is a human crisis of great magnitude spanning almost all the countries and regions of the world with severe health and socio-economic consequences. Apart from the deep health crisis, the devastating economic consequences on the livelihood of many millions of people across the globe is beyond comprehension and calculations.
Therefore, there is a need for a relentless search at all levels and in all dimensions to find the truth.
In this process, it is important to probe the role of the World Health Organisation (WHO). It is after all the premier health organisation, not of one country but of the world, and whose words and actions should be devoid of ineptitude or inefficiency and any suspicion of partiality or bias to anyone or any country. Any possible culpability on its part in the spread of this virus, directly or indirectly, needs to be judged based on the facts as available to us from the time the coronavirus episode unfolded.
President Trump muddles the matter with his belligerent rhetoric, inconsistent, undiplomatic, temperamental, and erratic statements, unbecoming of a president of a powerful nation; The Chinese authorities with their organised pre-emptive propaganda and actions are deflecting any blame or accusations at their commissions and omissions and avoiding all accountability.
The impending US Presidential elections in November where the Democratic Party opposition in the US will go to any extent to denounce Trump as the only one to blame in order to unseat him would not be helpful either. On the other hand, China’s mode of governance is one that it has no such political compulsions; they can extol their response to this virus with no opposition to face within the country and make inroads again from where they had left.
In addition, the protagonists are employing and unleashing bullying tactics of which we are very familiar with in the case of US; but China too is proving that it is no second or inferior to US in this, as has been recently evidenced. An example is. when the Australian Prime minister Scott Morrison first expressed that he supported the push “for an inquiry to understand how the outbreak started and then spread rapidly around the world”. In response, China threatened Australia that it would stop buying their meat products and wine and impose sanctions on them. Now he is reported to have retracted his earlier position and saying that “he has no evidence to suggest the disease originated in a laboratory in the Chinese city of Wuhan”.
It would seem that with a well-orchestrated political and media campaign supported by their respective allies, US & China are vying to outdo each other in their fight for supremacy.
It may never be possible to really establish the truth, as any attempts to find the ‘truth of it all’ will be side tracked by politicking, propaganda, political point scoring, bias, and the vested interests taking one side or the other and taking strong positions. Those trying to cover up or deflect will always use their power to exert an iron hand, including the necessary propaganda machinery and favourable media to detract or dismiss any attempts to point out what may generally the people are made to conclude as fact or truth or even common sense, based on the events.
However, try, we must!
On December 31, 2019, Taiwan emailed WHO and warned that there was human-to-human transmission of the coronavirus in Wuhan. WHO chose to ignore it. They did not share that information with other member states and did not initiate enquires on its own on the information received. Taiwan, suspicious that information emerging from China was not accurate enough, had begun screening arrivals from Wuhan and was thus able to minimise the effects of the virus to its people.
On January 13, the Thailand Ministry of Health reported the first recorded case of the outbreak outside China, in a woman who had arrived from Wuhan. Even by mid-January, WHO continued to deny human to human transmission, relying solely on the information provided by China, that its authorities had found no evidence of it. Instead of attempting to independently verify China’s claims, the WHO took them at face value and disseminated them to the world.
On January 14, Taiwan accused the WHO of ignoring it when it asked about person-to-person transmission at the very start of the outbreak in China. It was on that day WHO tweeted that “there may have been human to human transmission of the coronavirus mainly through family members”. However, 12 days before that, the medical journal ‘Lancelot’ reported that in Wuhan, 41 patients were hospitalised and that out of them 14 patients had no connections with the Wuhan sea food market, implying human to human transmission. Without independently verifying this, WHO chose to rely completely on the version provided by China. Many countries believed what WHO said. By January 17, the virus had spread to many counties with confirmed cases.
On January 20, experts on infectious diseases confirmed human to human transmission, raising fears of a major outbreak. However, even on January 23, WHO Director General, Tedros Adhenom Ghebreyesus, said that the outbreak did not constitute a public health emergency of international concern and asserted that there was “no evidence of the virus spreading between humans outside China”.
On January 28, a senior WHO delegation led by the Director General travelled to Beijing to meet Chinese officials which included a meeting with the Chinese Foreign Minister who relayed to them that everything was normal. Without any verification, WHO assured that nothing was happening in China that the world needs to worry.
It was only on January 30, WHO declared that the outbreak constitutes a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEC), a global emergency – after 29 days of the first report from Taiwan of a possible human to human transmission. By that time, it had spread to many countries far and wide.
Yet, only on March 11, after a lapse of 57 critical days, WHO announced it as ‘pandemic’ – “world-wide spread of a new disease” – during which period people have been traveling freely in and out of China.
If WHO had investigated the case reported in Thailand; had released the information provided by Taiwan; had with its vast resources independently verified instead of accepting at face value what were said by the Chinese authorities; had warned the world of the probability of human to human transmission of the virus, it would have saved the world from the catastrophic situation that it is now forced to confront.
Don’t these point to WHO’s ineptitude?
While the world was reeling from the effects of the virus, Dr. Bruce Aylward, head of the WHO-China Joint Mission on Covid-19 took the time to heap accolades on China. These are his words: “Now that cases (outside China) are picking up, my phone is ringing much more. People are asking: How did China do it? What did they do exactly? What can we do?” – While the tragedy unfolds, he exhorts the world to look in amazement and with awe at China!
Going further, the report issued by the WHO- China Joint Mission pointed out that, in combating this novel coronavirus China has adopted “the most ambitious, agile and aggressive measures ever taken in history, probably preventing at least tens of thousands , even hundreds of thousands of cases, making itself the solid frontline in defending mankind against this virus” Note the superlatives and the words “defending mankind”!
Although Taiwan, having swiftly and decisively controlled the spread with relatively few infected cases and deaths and pointed out that it learned many lessons from managing its coronavirus outbreak which could be shared with the world, WHO decided that they have no lessons to learn from Taiwan – only from China!
It is not all; As if the world is to be eternally grateful to China – burying China’s acts of commission and omission in the first place – it is further reported that Dr. Aylward, purportedly touched by the Chinese people’s sacrifice, said ‘emotionally’ that “ to the people Wuhan , it is recognised that the world is in your debt”.
Not to be outdone by his loyalty to China, Dr. Michael J. Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme, despite the fact that the WHO team was denied access to the laboratory at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, had asserted that “coronavirus are a global phenomenon; they exist on a global basis. It’s an unlucky accident of history or nature that they emerge in a certain place and it’s really important that we don’t start to ascribe blame to geographic origin and that we look at this in terms of how we respond, how we contain it and how we stop this virus”. He thus expressed the keenness that it is not in any way attributed to China or even Wuhan – and that is exactly what China wanted.
In pursuance of this, while the virus was causing havoc on humanity all over the world, on February 11, WHO bestowed a new, innocuous name for the virus: “Covid-19”: “Co” for “Corona ”, “Vi” for virus, “D” for disease, and “19”, for the year it happened, announcing that it is by that name the disease shall be henceforth called.
WHO’s stand and statements lay bare their “indebtedness” to China, for whatever reasons. Even Chinese authorities would not have defended China so robustly–very unusual and abnormal, to say the least! With a bias so pronounced Tedros extolled Chinese President Xi Jinping’s “very rare leadership” and China’s “transparency.”
WHO, echoing China whenever culpability or accountability is questioned, sanctimoniously says “this is not the time to politicise” and that “all should set politics aside in dealing with a pandemic”.
However, WHO is the one which played politics in this episode, first ignoring Taiwan’s report to them at the cost of the whole humanity and then, in a TV phone interview. In this interview, Bruce Aylward, the WHO Assistant Director General deliberately ignored the interviewer when he was asked about the role of Taiwan, pretending first not to hear the question; and when the interviewer repeated, he hung up and walked away, abruptly terminating the interview. Yet, Taiwan is seen as one of the few countries in the world which has successfully stemmed the spread of the virus without resorting to draconian measures. It would look like he was concerned more about not falling foul with China than objectivity of the health of the nations. If this not pandering to politics what, then is?
And, don’t these point to WHO’s sycophancy?
President Xi Jinpeng of China, specifically and significantly makes fervent appeal to “support the WHO”. Interestingly too, both China & WHO’s common refrain is that, “this is not the time to politicise but to jointly concentrate on fighting the common enemy that is Covid-19”. The refrain of “not politicising” coming from China in defence of WHO is telling. One wonders whether it is simply a case of “each scratching the other’s back”.
No doubt, all individuals, organisations, governments, and countries should concentrate on fighting and overcoming the virus. —That is what is any way happening all over the world, despite most countries initially being caught off guard on the characteristics, virility, and the intensity of the virus, for which WHO should also be accountable. Even countries that have taken steps very early to contain it, have been overpowered by the virus unable to stop its menacing spread on the health and economy of its citizens. Concentrating on fighting the enemy does take place and it needs no warning or admonition by anyone. It is neither necessary nor warranted and only points to probable covert attempts to stifle and “nip in the bud” any discussions on responsibility, accountability, and apologies.
On January 10, with Wuhan gripped by the outbreak, the WHO said that it did “not recommend any specific health measures for travellers to and from Wuhan,” adding that “entry screening offers little benefit.” It also advised “against the application of any travel or trade restrictions on China”. On impositions on restrictions on travel from China, WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus roundly criticized the actions, arguing that they would increase “fear and stigma, with little public-health benefit.”
By January 30, when the WHO finally labelled the epidemic a public-health emergency, travellers from China had carried the virus to far-flung corners of the world.
What did WHO wait for China to accomplish? Do these not show WHO’s partiality and political bias to China and its playing to China’s agenda? Have China & the higher echelons of WHO been together in the infliction of this global tragedy, in turning a local viral outbreak into the greatest global disaster of our time?
Don’t these point to WHO’s complicity?
One or all the three?
In this episode, therefore, WHO’s role is one of ineptitude, sycophancy or complicity. Or, perhaps all the three mixed in varying proportions!
The world certainly needs the WHO —but not one with the upper echelons and leadership so tainted and of questionable sincerity, objectivity and integrity that has wreaked havoc on the whole of the humanity, in one way or the other.
And, again, to quote the phrase in William Shakespeare’s play ‘Julius Caesar’ uttered by Caesar on the betrayal by his supposed friend Marcus Brutus when he recognised him as one of the assassins, “Et tu Brutus” (“You too Brutus”), it is appropriate for the world humanity also to ask , “Et tu WHO (“You too WHO”)? ”