WHO to probe origins of novel coronavirus in response to global call

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A crucial resolution to probe the origin of the novel coronavirus and to carry out an “impartial, independent and comprehensive” evaluation of the global response to the coronavirus outbreak, including the role of the World Health Organisation, was passed by the overwhelming support of around 130 countries including India at the World Health Assembly in Geneva on Tuesday.

The resolution providing for the evaluation of the response mechanism as well as to identify the “zoonotic source” of the virus was passed at the end of the two-day 73rd session of the WHA, which was curtailed from usual three weeks and was for the first time held virtually.

The passage of the resolution came in the backdrop of growing calls, including by US President Donald Trump, to investigate how the virus originated in China’s Wuhan city and subsequent action by Beijing. Trump also wrote a letter to WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Monday threatening to “permanently freeze” the US funding to the UN health agency if it failed to demonstrate its “independence” from China in the next 30 days.

At the crucial conference, India was elected to the 34-member Executive Board of the WHO. As per the rotation policy, the Executive Board will be headed by a member country of WHO’s South-East Asia group for a tenure of one year.

The South-East Asia Group already decided that India will chair the Executive Board. It will meet under Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan’s chairmanship on May 22, officials told PTI.

China, which was not part of the countries which sought evaluation of the global response to the pandemic as well as the source of the infection also supported the resolution, apparently bowing to growing calls to investigate how the virus originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan. The resolution, however, did not name China.

The resolution adopted at the WHA asked the WHO Director General to conduct an “impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation” into the WHO-coordinated international health response to COVID-19.

It also asked the WHO leadership to examine the actions of WHO and their timelines pertaining to the 19 pandemics and make recommendations to improve global preparedness and response capacity to the global health crisis.

The resolution mentioned the need for finding the origin of the virus and the route of its transmission to the human population, including finding the possible role of intermediate hosts.

In the resolution, the member countries of the WHO also resolved to work collaboratively at all levels to develop, test, and scale-up production of safe, effective and affordable medicines and vaccines for the COVID-19 response.

It also also talked about voluntary pooling and licensing of patents to facilitate timely, equitable and affordable access to the medicines to poor countries.

Besides India, the countries which supported the draft resolution included Australia, Bangladesh, Belarus, Bhutan, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Djibouti, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guyana, Iceland, Indonesia, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Maldives and Mexico.

Montenegro, New Zealand, North Macedonia, Norway, Paraguay, Peru, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Moldova, Russia, San Marino, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Turkey, Ukraine and the UK and Northern Ireland are also backing the resolution, according to the WHO.

The African Group comprising around 50 countries are also supporting the resolution. Surprisingly, the US has not figured in the list of countries backing the move.

India was represented at the conference by Union health minister Vardhan.

In his address on Monday at the WHA video conference, he said India took all the necessary steps well in time to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, and asserted it has done well in dealing with the disease till now.

Chinese President Xi Jinping also addressed the assembly on Monday during which he announced a USD two billion fund to help countries hit by the pandemic and backed the World Health Organisation and its leadership.

“China will provide USD two billion over two years to help with COVID-19 response and with economic and social development in affected countries, especially developing countries,” Xi said.

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