WHO Disappoints by Rubber-Stamping China Claims after Wuhan Investigation

Although an on-site investigation into the origins of the novel coronavirus has finally been realized, far from clarifying the actual situation, it resulted in almost repeating China’s assertions.

It must be said that a situation that undermines international confidence in the World Health Organization is disappointing.

In the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the world’s first outbreak of the coronavirus was detected, the WHO has conducted the first investigation into the origins and infection routes of the virus. The WHO-led experts visited sites such as the seafood market where mass infections were confirmed, however, they have yet to reach a clear conclusion and intend to continue the investigation in neighboring countries as well.

China has already shut down the market, so there would be no convincing evidence remaining. It is also unclear whether the country has provided the WHO with data on infected patients that can be used as clues. The investigation can be said to have come too late.

When the infection spread in Wuhan in January 2020, the Chinese government had a delayed response. The local authorities covered up information, punishing a doctor who raised the alarm about the unusual situation. When the WHO dispatched experts in February and July last year, China, saying the priority should be bringing the coronavirus under control, did not actively cooperate.

China has strongly denied the view that Wuhan is where the virus originated, instead touting the scenario that the virus has a foreign origin. If China claims that it had nothing to do with the outbreak of the virus, it should have accepted the WHO’s full-fledged investigation as soon as possible and sincerely cooperated in uncovering the truth.

The administration of Chinese President Xi Jinping claims the rule of the Chinese Communist Party is superior, saying that the country has won the battle against the coronavirus. The Xi administration must be aware that, when international cooperation is necessary in the fight against the infections disease, trying to expand its own country’s influence is undermining other countries’ trust in China.

In the latest investigation, the WHO could not dispel criticism that the international body has been “pro-China.” While denying a scenario advocated by the administration of former U.S. President Donald Trump that the virus was leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, the WHO said it would continue to investigate another scenario, emphasized by China, involving imported frozen foods as the origin of the virus.

It would be difficult for the WHO to regain trust unless it thoroughly explains what data it is collecting from China and how it will use them in future investigations. To prevent the pandemic of a new virus in the future, it is essential to thoroughly investigate the origins of the coronavirus and release the results.

Primarily, the WHO should have conducted an on-site investigation when the coronavirus infections began to spread, but it could not override China’s refusal.

There are many problems with the system in which priority is given to the sovereignty of the countries to be investigated and experts who examine the situation have no choice but to wait for self-motivated cooperation from the countries. It is necessary to use the WHO’s investigation in China as an opportunity to speed up reforms.

The United States, Europe and Japan must unite to encourage China to cooperate in turning the system into one where each country is responsible for sharing information on the spread of a virus and accepting such investigations.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Feb. 11, 2021.