Did the World Health Organization make the coronavirus pandemic more likely? Undeniably.
On Tuesday, President Trump criticized the international health agency for “severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus,” and halted U.S. funding to it. The president could have added: The World Health Organization has been the Chinese Communist Party’s useful idiot. It has repeated Beijing’s claims despite contrary evidence, withholding the information the world needed to stop the virus’ rapid spread.
The WHO’s actions—or rather inaction—proves its culpability in the coronavirus pandemic. Our organization recently compiled this timeline in a new report that demonstrates how the WHO helped disarm the world in the face of a deadly new virus.
Beijing informed the WHO about pneumonia of unknown cause on Dec. 31, and by Jan. 4, the agency was publicly praising China for “responding proactively and rapidly to the current incident in Wuhan.” Yet even at that early stage, the WHO was ignoring warnings that the coronavirus was much more dangerous than Chinese officials admitted.
By the time China contacted the WHO, the coronavirus had already been spreading within the country since at least mid-November, something Beijing has still failed to disclose. The situation was so serious that Taiwan also notified the WHO about the coronavirus in late December.
Taiwan—which China has blocked from cooperating with the WHO—flagged the reality of human-to-human transmission occurring, meaning the virus had the potential to infect huge numbers of people. China had already reached the same conclusion, yet destroyed the evidence instead of reporting it.
The WHO completely ignored the Taiwanese warning, choosing to trust Beijing instead. On Jan. 14, the agency repeated the Chinese assertion that there was no “clear evidence of human-to-human transmission.” It maintained this position until after Jan. 20, when Chinese authorities finally acknowledged that the coronavirus was spreading between humans. Had the WHO acted earlier, the coronavirus could potentially have been contained in China.
This clear mistake failed to shake the WHO from uncritically accepting China’s positions. Through at least late January, the agency urged other nations to maintain full trade and travel relations with China, heeding Beijing’s desire not to isolate the country.
The WHO also downplayed the seriousness of the crisis. On Jan. 23, the agency’s director-general stated the coronavirus was “not yet a global health emergency.” When the agency finally issued such a declaration on Jan. 30, it was after an official WHO visit to Beijing, which led the director-general to laud “China’s commitment to transparency and to protecting the world’s people.”
He also said the WHO “continues to have confidence in China’s capacity to control the outbreak,” and that China has “set a new standard.” Such flattery ignored the facts and lulled the world into a false sense of security.
But the WHO didn’t simply accept China’s claims as gospel truth. Starting in February, the agency went a step further, defending China from deserved criticism.
As Western officials and media outlets began pointing to China’s domestic crackdown on information and deceptive health claims, the director-general remarked on Feb. 8 that the WHO wasn’t “just battling the virus; we’re also battling the trolls and conspiracy theorists that push misinformation and undermine the outbreak response.” A steady stream of similar comments has continued.
Yet the agency has yet to say a word about China’s misinformation. By blindly believing Beijing’s claims, the WHO wasted precious days, in which a pandemic went from possible to inevitable. Even its declaration of a pandemic on March 11 came far too late, when the virus had already spread to 114 countries.
A month later, the WHO still shows no signs of admitting its errors, much less questioning China. There is no word about the mounting evidence that Beijing continues to falsify its illness and death counts, no suspicion at China’s unlikely claims of no new coronavirus cases for days in a row, no criticism of the recent revelations that Chinese officials and state-owned companies plundered global medical supplies in January, even as Beijing covered up the situation at home. The WHO’s silence is perhaps more telling than its continued applause of China’s oppressive actions and supposed success.
President Trump pointed out many of the WHO’s errors on Tuesday. The United States should continue to withhold funding from the agency until it is seriously reformed. At the very least, its leadership should be removed, China should be suspended from full membership, and Taiwan admitted.
That’s the minimum needed for the World Health Organization to fulfill its mission rather than being a mouthpiece for Chinese Communist propaganda.