Although WHO continued to publicly commend China, the recordings obtained by ‘The Associated Press’ show they were concerned China was not sharing enough information to assess the risk posed by the new virus, costing the world valuable time
THROUGHOUT January, the World Health Organisation publicly praised China for what it called a speedy response to the new coronavirus and thanked the Chinese Government for sharing the genetic map of the virus “immediately,.” But in fact, Chinese officials sat on releasing the genetic map, or genome, of the deadly virus for over a week after multiple Government labs had fully decoded it, not sharing details key to designing tests, drugs and vaccines. Strict controls on information and competition within the Chinese public health system were largely to blame, The Associated Press has found from internal documents, emails and dozens of interviews. Health officials only released the genome after a Chinese lab published it ahead of authorities on a virology website on January 11.
Even then, China stalled for at least two weeks more on giving WHO the details it needed, according to recordings of multiple internal meetings held by the U.N. Health agency in January — all at a time when the outbreak arguably might have been dramatically slowed. Although WHO continued to publicly commend China, the recordings obtained by the AP show they were concerned China was not sharing enough information to assess the risk posed by the new virus, costing the world valuable time.
“We’re currently at the stage where yes, they’re giving it to us 15 minutes before it appears on CCTV,” said WHO’s top official in China, Dr. Gauden Galea, referring to the State-owned China Central Television, in one meeting. The story behind the early response to the pandemic comes at a time when the UN health agency is under siege. U.S. President Trump cut ties with WHO on Friday, after blasting the agency for allegedly colluding with China to hide the extent of the epidemic. Chinese President Xi Jinping said China has always provided information to WHO and the world “in a most timely fashion.”
The new information does not support the narrative of either the US or China, but portrays an agency now stuck in the middle that was urgently trying to solicit more data. Although international law obliges countries to report information to WHO that could have an impact on public health, the UN Agency has no enforcement powers.