Health

100+ Countries Want An Inquiry Into COVID-19 Origins & Global Response

Chinese President Xi Jinping reportedly said he supported a “global review” into the virus after the pandemic is under control, but that the WHO should lead it.

Tedros Adhanom, Director General of the World Health Organization, (L) shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping before a meeting at the Great Hall of the People, on January 28, 2020 in Beijing, China. | Getty Images
Tedros Adhanom, Director General of the World Health Organization, (L) shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping before a meeting at the Great Hall of the People, on January 28, 2020 in Beijing, China. | Getty Images

Countries around the world want an inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus, which has infected more than 4.7 million people and devastated economies, as well as the global response to the outbreak. 

More than 120 countries have supported an independent probe into the origins of the virus in a draft resolution at the annual World Health Assembly. The assembly of the WHO’s governing body, which started Monday, is virtual for the first time ever this year as the world is dealing with a deadly pandemic. 

In order for the resolution to pass, at least two thirds of the assembly’s 194 member countries must support it, and a vote is expected Tuesday, Foreign Policy reported

Countries spanning every continent besides Antarctica — including Russia, Australia, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, Brazil, Tunisia, and Canada — have supported the call for an “independent evaluation…  to review experience gained and lessons learned from the WHO-coordinated international health response to COVID-19.” The countries also want to "identify the zoonotic source of the virus and the route of introduction to the human population, including the possible role."

Neither China nor the United States are listed as supporters in the resolution. China, where COVID-19 was first detected in Wuhan last year, is also not specifically named as an early epicenter of the virus.

The proposed inquiry comes after Australia late last month pushed for an inquiry into China’s handling of the crisis. China responded that it was “seriously concerned about and firmly opposed to this” and has since imposed heavy tariffs on Australian goods. The U.S. has made similar calls, as Trump administration officials have claimed they’d seek financial damages from or other consequences for China over its handling of the outbreak, the Washington Post reported. (Chinese officials have responded that the U.S. should focus on containment, not “smearing China and shifting the blame onto China.”)

On Monday, Chinese President Xi Jinping reportedly said he supported a “global review” into the pandemic response after the virus is under control — but that the WHO should lead the investigation. Jinping also pledged $2 billion to deal with the crisis.

Scientists have not reached a conclusive answer on where the coronavirus came from, which is one reason why conspiracy theories and misinformation have run rampant. Government officials with political agendas have further muddied the waters; for instance, the Chinese Communist Party has touted misinformation (including previous claims that the virus originated elsewhere), while parts of the U.S. government have searched for any evidence in an attempt to blame China entirely for the outbreak

U.S. intelligence officials have also speculated that China and its capital Beijing significantly underreported the extent of the outbreak both in the country and in the epicenter of the Hubei province, where Wuhan is located. (China’s foreign ministry spokesperson has rejected the U.S. allegation that Beijing concealed the extent of its outbreak.) 

“China’s reluctance to allow the international community to investigate and its enthusiasm in creating all sorts of conspiracy theories pointing to non-China origins of the virus only make the world more eager to know the answer,” said Ho-Fung Hung, a professor in political economy at Johns Hopkins University in the U.S., with a focus on China, told The Guardian.

President Trump has already halted funding to the WHO after he publicly feuded with the head of the United Nations agency over its response to the coronavirus crisis. Trump repeatedly accused the organization of being “China-centric” and failing to be aggressive enough in confronting the virus.

At the WHA assembly, member countries are also expected to discuss access to COVID-19 treatments. On Monday, UN Secretary-General António Guterres called for global cooperation amid the ongoing pandemic.

"Now is a time for unity," Guterres said, according to CNN. "Either we stand together or we fall apart."