Chinese President Xi Jinping (AP)
WASHINGTON: The world may have lost a precious four to six weeks in taking defensive measures against the coronavirus pandemic after China’s President Xi Jinping personally asked the WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to delay a warning about human-to-human transmission, a German magazine has reported, citing the country’s intelligence agency. The report, which is strongly contested by the WHO, would strengthen the Trump administration’s claim that the organization is under China’s control and that Beijing concealed the seriousness of the outbreak for several weeks.
According to the report in Germany’s Der Spiegel, the country’s intelligence agency ‘Bundesnachrichtendienst’ (BND) believes Xi phoned Ghebreyesus on January 21 to ask for a delay in global warning about the pandemic. An early warning would have enabled countries to shut down travel from China and take other preventive measures, saving tens of thousands of lives. US intelligence reports too have alleged that China “intentionally concealed the severity” of the pandemic in early January and hoarded medical supplies.
But the WHO says the allegations are unfounded and there was not only no call between Xi and Ghebreyesus, but they have never spoken on the phone. “Such inaccurate reports distract and detract from WHO’s and the world’s efforts to end the Covid-19 pandemic,” WHO said in a statement, noting that China confirmed human-to-human transmission of the novel coronavirus on January 20, which would be a day before the alleged call.
The WHO itself publicly declared on January 22 that “data collected … suggests that human-to-human transmission is taking place in Wuhan,” although it was not until March that the organisation declared it a global pandemic, setting in motion a worldwide shut down. Many experts reckon that if the shutdown had occurred earlier, the virus could have been better contained.
The spat between Washington and China/WHO continues even as the American toll from the pandemic closed in on 80,000 on Sunday, with President Trump blaming not just China and WHO, but also his predecessor Barack Obama for the US situation. “We are getting great marks for the handling of the Coronavirus pandemic, especially the very early BAN of people from China, the infectious source, entering the USA. Compare that to the Obama/Sleepy Joe disaster known as H1N1 Swine Flu. Poor marks, bad polls — didn’t have a clue!” Trump raged on Twitter. Trump was evidently irked by Obama calling his handling of the crisis “an absolute chaotic disaster”.
Trump has also had to face the mortification of the coronavirus breaching the White House perimeter to come within a degree of him and his family, with his official valet, an aide to his daughter Ivanka, and the spokesperson of the coronavirus task force testing positive. Over the weekend, three key officials of the task force, including Dr Anthony Fauci, announced that they were selfquarantining, ostensibly because they had been in proximity to the spokesperson of the task force Katie Miller.