China’s intervention in COVID-19 report has undermined trust in WHO

It is clear that the credibility of the investigation and analysis has been undermined because China was allowed to intervene by coauthoring the report. The World Health Organization’s reason for existence will likely be questioned anew.

The WHO has released a report on its investigation conducted in the Chinese city of Wuhan into the origin of the novel coronavirus. However, the report failed to clarify the specific route of infection, merely presenting a conventional assessment that it is highly likely that the virus spread via animals.

The report acknowledged that there is a “possibility” the virus was brought into the country attached to imported frozen foods, as China has claimed, but states that it is extremely unlikely that the virus leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a theory advocated by the administration of former U.S. President Donald Trump.

The investigation and preparation of the report were strongly influenced by the Chinese government from the beginning, and it was expected that conclusions would be drawn in line with China’s assertions.

The report was coauthored by 17 experts from the WHO and 17 from China. Why was it impossible for the WHO to conduct an independent investigation? The completion of on-site investigations and the release of the report were delayed significantly. The delays might have been due to difficulties in negotiations with China, which made several requests.

WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus admitted that the report was inadequate. It can be said that he missed the opportunity to restore public trust in the WHO, which has been criticized for being “China-centric.” The organization must conduct further investigation on its own.

The world’s first confirmed case of the novel coronavirus was reported in Wuhan in December 2019. The WHO report states the possibility that the virus had spread several weeks earlier and called on China to conduct additional tests on blood samples.

If China complies, it might lead to the identification of the source of the outbreak, but its compliance will not be easy to achieve.

Experts who participated in the investigation testified that China refused to provide raw data on patients in the early stages of the outbreak. Japan, the United States and 12 other countries were critical of the fact that the investigation team “did not have access to complete, original data and samples.”

China must take the harsh gaze of the international community seriously. If the country asserts that it is not the origin of the virus, it should actively cooperate with the investigation and submit data.

The WHO needs to be reformed to increase its transparency and credibility, in order to prevent a recurrence of such a situation and to effectively deal with new outbreaks.

The European Union has called for a new treaty to strengthen international cooperation in sharing information on infectious diseases and securing vaccines. Efforts must be expedited to create a framework to complement the weak authority of the WHO.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on April 3, 2021.