27 November, 2020

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Coronavirus & WHO: Ineptitude, Sycophancy Or Complicity? 

By A. Sivapathasundaram

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.

Photo – Marta Escurra | @marta_escurra

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! 

Ineptitude?

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?

Sycophancy? 

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?

Complicity?

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”)? ”

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Latest comments

  • 5
    4

    The author ought first to look up the shape of an exponential curve and its properties. That alone will explain the responses/ reactions at very early stages, when there was no additional knowledge of the nature of this virus. Once it started picking up, Chinese officials, scientists and WHO reacted correctly. Just read articles in the Lancet (not lancelot) by Chinese scientists. It is pure patronizing attitude that failed Europe and USA. Discussed nicely by Aufa Hirsch here: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/may/21/africa-coronavirus-successes-innovation-europe-us?CMP=share_btn_tw)
    Another nice piece on the subject is how Mongolia handled the crisis described in Indi Samarajiva’s blog here: https://medium.com/@indica/covid-underdogs-mongolia-3b0c162427c2
    China did not have another example to go by when they were at the early stages of the exponential graph. Rest of the world had. Those who used the information wisely did well, the arrogant failed — and in the case of the UK and USA, continue to fail miserably. They are now looking for scapegoats.

  • 3
    0

    This is a learning experience for me.But hope that this Covid-19 is not a biological weapon?

    • 4
      3

      Sri,
      If it isa biological weapon, there is pathetically weak evidence that China developed it. (See for example, https://www.scmp.com/news/china/science/article/3082606/its-unfair-blame-china-coronavirus-pandemic-lancet-editor-tells).
      Also see the amusing video titled “Once upon a virus” at
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q5BZ09iNdvo
      It is very precise and to the point.
      *
      The US, especially Donald T. and the Republican far right are desperate because their incompetent handling of the virus is getting increasingly clear. They are hitting out in all directions to distract attention.
      There are few takers among leading countries for the attack on WHO.
      *
      This article is yet another Quixotic tilt at China by a Trump loyalist.
      *
      Now, if it cannot be China, who is the biggest source of biological weapons?
      I give less than 1.00001 guesses to any intelligent person.

      • 5
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        SJ,

        Going strictly by the article itself, with no knowledge about the author’s past writings, what makes you conclude he is a Trump loyalist?

        I am a never Trumper, but I find some of the questions raised by the author about how WHO’s leaders have been genuflecting to China legitimate. There has been a lot of China-Taiwan tensions at WHO.

        WHO has high-ranking personnel from the U.S. as well, so they should have coordinated with their counterparts in the U.S. administration. Even if it was people like Trump and the toadies who surround him who dropped the ball, there are a lot of leaders at the next level in government who could have stepped up taken the lead despite negligence from the politicians, had the WHO been more forceful about it. The UN system as a whole is not exactly known for competence and speed.

        The confidence the Western countries had came from their successful handling of past pandemics like SARS, MERS and Ebola. But they made several mistakes this time; for instance they restricted flights from other countries, but allowed U.S. citizens to carry the virus in early.

        The “five eyes”– English speaking Western countries– spend billions, perhaps even trillions, of dollars on foreign intelligence gathering but lack basic intelligence about what was happening in China with the virus, so the West has to do a lot of soul-searching to do as well.

        • 2
          1

          Agnos
          It is good to exchange views with you.
          The article above is a follow up of the earlier one with little new information. If you think that my observation was inappropriate here is a sample from the earlier one: “the previous presidents have taken cover in niceties of words –in what could be called ‘politico-speak’, or ‘political double-speak’ and well- behaved demeanour; whereas Trump is blunt, does not mince words or resort to niceties in his expressions. He falls far short in charisma, demeanour and oratorical skills.”
          There is more adulation there if you will enjoy reading it.
          *
          So far no evidence has been produced by anyone for the virus originating in the Wuhan lab. Pompeo insists that there is plenty of evidence, but so far not a scrap of concrete evidence has emerged.
          That having misfired now they turn on the WHO, with few takers even among allies.
          *
          That the US government was informed of the existence of a virulent virus in 2019 is supported by a multitude of sources including ones from the US:
          nzherald: “Covid 19 coronavirus: Intelligence shows US was warned in November”
          (https://www.nzherald.co.nz/world/news/article.cfm?c_id=2&objectid=12323882)
          CNN: “sources told CNN that intelligence gathered in November and in the weeks following offered multiple early warnings about the potential severity of the pandemic now surging in the US.”

          • 0
            0

            SJ,

            Sorry–I didn’t see this until now. I hadn’t read the author’s previous article, so I will let that issue go.
            I did see some claims about intelligence warnings and how Trump ignored those, in the US media.

            But if you look at how other English speaking countries–who are in an intelligence sharing agreement with the US– also failed to understand it until sometime in February/March, it is clear whatever intelligence was passed on to the higher ups couldn’t have been forceful enough. Because of the open nature of Western societies, as well as high levels of immigration from China, it is easier for China to collect intelligence in the West. The reverse isn’t true.

            • 0
              1

              Agnos
              Thanks.
              The US has the most extensive intelligence gathering network anywhere.
              Collecting intelligence from the West is not a job for amateurs. The US apparently had information of a serious virus issue well before the Chinese government recognized it.
              It is not numbers but good training.
              The Wuhan virology laboratory had American staff working there.
              *
              As for the infection, when infection was reported outside China, let alone South Korea and Thailand, in Europe itself, someone should have woken up.
              The disaster that UK and Spain proved to be owes it to running down of the public health services.
              In the US, I wonder if the full name of the worst active virus starts with a capital D.

              • 2
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                SJ,

                There are many career civil servants in government, below the politicians and political appointees. These civil servants, including the heads of CDC, NIH and the Dept. of Health and Human Services, would have made a big issue about it with their political bosses if the intelligence had been clear; they don’t always have to get directions from the politicians above them for basic emergencies, and can drive the process by raising serious alarm.

                The real severity of the problem was known only to China. WHO should have known some of it as well, but somehow they downplayed it until very late.

                Whatever intelligence was collected, wasn’t pointed and forceful enough to raise alarm among the career civil servants. As bad as Trump is, not everything in government has to wait for his direction.

  • 4
    1

    SJ
    Thanks for the details,

    but I am still not convinced ,how this Covid-19 jumped from animals to humans and also about the Wuhan Institute of Virology-Chinese Academy of sciences.

    I understand research is undertaken at this Institute and even USA funds this Institute at least from the time of President Obama,

    I am still curious

    • 3
      1

      Many viruses have moved from animals to humans.
      That is not unusual.
      You are correct about the US participation in WIV-CAS. The story about the virus originating there failed partly on that count.
      *
      France is reported to have had aCOVID-19 patient, without a travel history, in December 2019 (https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-52526554).
      The International Journal of Antimicrobial Agents article also suggests that there could have been many mode patients in France with the virus as the sample size was small.
      That does not still exclude a Chinese origin, but make the spread something that happened well before the Chinese recognized it.
      *
      The editor of Lancet made his comments based on scientific reasoning.
      *
      The US_UK_Canada-Australia-NZ intelligence organization Five Eyes has rejected a Chinese laboratory origin for the virus.
      https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/may/04/five-eyes-network-contradicts-theory-covid-19-leaked-from-lab
      *
      Today China boldly calls for a proper investigation of the origin, desirably after controlling its spread.
      I wonder if the US is ready for it?
      *
      What is ugly is not the claim of a Chinese origin but charges that China (and the WHO) were party to a criminal act. South Korea and other countries took note of the Chinese message to WHO and acted. Those who failed to heed any warning even after the spread was well known are busy blaming others.

  • 1
    1

    Hi srikrish:
    Curiosity is good (unless you are a cat). Here is what the Wuhan Lab says
    https://tinyurl.com/y7u8fwzz

  • 5
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    Agnos, you are absolutely right. People who give excuses are the ones biased and there s no difference between them and the WHO director. Just see the wordings and their referral source. If anyone questions then they accuse being pro this or anti that. This too is same as what Author says about China/USA “either with us or against us”. One guy refers to what Wuhan Lab says (dude havent we heard enough already). See the wording “China did not have another example to go by”, dude they had SARS any many more, before you just didnt know about it. “There are few takers, last I read 116 countries supported the resolution to have an independent inquiry. Up to now these guys kept saying it is USA and UK which ignored the warning, what about Russia, Brazil and India (which crossed 100, 000 after so called two months of stringent lock down). Agnos, this reminds me of the Humanitarian Mission, which was believed as said, with lots of praise and accolades, lead by UN and supported by many and still he affected are in search of their near ones. When people give referral sources they are just disseminating the same and what the resolution demands is to have a fresh look by an independent body of experts to get to a conclusion.

  • 3
    0

    Singar.A Velan says: “Just read articles in the Lancet (not lancelot) by Chinese scientists; & “Here is what the Wuhan Lab says…”

    ***** “Lancelot” is typo error in my article, it should read ‘Lancet’ . But, pray tell me Singar. A Velan, what else do you expect Chinese scientists & Wuhan Lab from China to say.?? –An objective person (a judge) relying on the very person or sources whose culpability is questioned is a very poor defence and a hindrance in identifying the truth for the good of the humanity.

    SJ says: “This article is yet another Quixotic tilt at China by a Trump loyalist”; & “What is ugly is not the claim of a Chinese origin but charges that China (and the WHO) were party to a criminal act”.

    ***** Knowing the likes of SJ, despite my plea in the article itself and my dislike for Trump as President to objectively look at what have been stated in the article, he is determined to brand as “ Trump loyalist”— and rushes to bring in his defence his favourite “Don Quixotic”.

    As Agnos asks SJ, “Going strictly by the article itself, …….with no knowledge about the author’s past writings, what makes you conclude he is a Trump loyalist & Chiv points out “If anyone questions then they accuse being pro this or anti that”. —-The chronology of events, extensive quotations from the individuals, organisations and reference to Taiwan, Thailand, etc and deductions therefrom are swept aside –Just because it does not fit into his own bias from which he is determined not depart come what may, and he pounces with the tainted and tarred brush in his hands. Pathetic!

    I can only request, in this instance, the likes of Singar. A. Velan & SJ to heed to the wisdom of ‘Thiruvalluvar’, the great Tamil Poet and Philosopher , enshrined by in two of his couplets (Nos. 423 & 118) in “Thirukkural, the widely cherished work that has been translated in many languages of the world. An English translation of the relevant couplets goes as follows:

    ***“To identify and grasp the truth from whatever one hears and from whomsoever he hears is knowledge pure”.

    ***“A ‘weighing balance’ holds evenly the loading pans, keeps itself straight, takes the load, assays it correctly and gives its weight accurately. —Likewise, the wise and honourable people would weigh objectively the pros and cons of an issue and without taking any partisan view provide their opinion”.

    A. Sivapathasundaram

    • 0
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      AS
      Kindly see my response to Agnos and his to me.

    • 0
      0

      Hi Sivapathasundaram: I pointed to articles in Lancet by Chinese scientists AND the case Wuhan Lab’s makes. You need not believe the Lab’s case; but the articles in Lancet (and other journals, too) are peer reviewed to rather high standards. When there are parsimonious explanations to events we see, scare mongering conspiracy theories are not of interest.

  • 3
    0

    Siva, Bottom line is there are two factors which are vital in managing this crisis. One is INFORMATION and the other is LEADERSHIP , both of which were severely lacking in this case. Going in circles and trying to pass the buck does not help anyone. US scientist working in Wuhan is NEWS to me. If true, why would they insist in going in, is a mystery. Regardless initially China tried resisting, bully, threaten and go with their routine antics, in all means not bold as SJ would like to paint here, It took more than 100 countries to eventually pressure and make them to agree for such independent investigation. As for the rest, most countries including USA depends on WHO to gather information on such matters. How can people claim , it is not a biological weapon (I too think the same) and yet expect the US intelligence to know about it. USA is not Lanka where military takes the role of epidemiologist, virologist and community medicine expert. Of course there were some health experts who awoke by the nightmare, but were calmed and put back to sleep by The head of WHO , assuring it was not a pandemic, almost until end of March. As Siva,s title rightly says it is WHO which needs to be looked at depth more than China.

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