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Alban Maginness

Why it's unfair to pillory the WHO over failure of Beijing politburo to raise the alarm about pandemic

Alban Maginness

United Nations agency has been more sinned against than sinning throughout the crisis, says Alban Maginness


People wearing masks in Beijing to prevent the spread of coronavirus

People wearing masks in Beijing to prevent the spread of coronavirus


People wearing masks in Beijing to prevent the spread of coronavirus

Nobody is immune to coronavirus and coronavirus, apparently, is not immune to politics either. We have seen in the past week the pathetic political point-scoring by the gaffe-prone Sinn Fein northern leader Michelle O'Neill over Health Minister Robin Swann's decision to ask the Army to assist in the setting up of an emergency health facility at the site of the former Maze Prison.

When she got a bad Press she pulled her horns in and decided that the whole matter was really about a lack of consultation by Mr Swann with his Executive colleagues.

At the same time she of course failed to use her purported authority as Sinn Fein northern leader to criticise the failure of mourners to comply with social distancing safeguards when it came to republican funerals in Tyrone and west Belfast.

On both occasions scant regard was given to complying with public health safeguards, thereby potentially endangering the mourners themselves and the community at large. Radio silence was duly observed by Mrs O'Neill.

But, on a different political note, President Donald Trump decided to halt the USA's payments to the World Health Organisation (WHO) on the grounds that the United Nations organisation had been "... severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus".

He also accused it of being too "China-centric". He therefore decided to halt US funding to the WHO while his administration conducted a review.

He alleged that in certain countries like Italy, Spain and France it was the WHO's guidance that was responsible for their respective governments failing to control their borders.

Whether there is any substance to the President's point about the WHO's inadequate dealing with the crisis is yet to be established, but it seems grossly wrong to pull funding from this pivotal international health body in the middle of a global health crisis.

Quite properly, he has been criticised for his decision in America and across the world.

The suspicion is that he was trying to deflect criticism of his own questionable comments about the coronavirus at the very beginning and his belated health measures to counteract it.

In Ireland Tanaiste Simon Coveney, responding to the US decision, said that he would increase the Republic's contribution to the WHO to €9.5m.

He said: "Ireland strongly supports the WHO's efforts to co-ordinate a global response to combat Covid-19."

He stated that many countries rely on UN expertise and capacity to save lives.

Mr Coveney and the Irish Government were correct in their reaction to President Trump's strange decision in the middle of a pandemic to reduce the WHO's capacity to work internationally to counteract this appalling virus.

That is not to say that the WHO is beyond criticism over its dealing with the coronavirus and other issues and its relationship with the Chinese.

For example, in 2017 the WHO, in an act of stupendous idiocy, appointed Robert Mugabe its goodwill ambassador.

The long-suffering people of Zimbabwe must have been incredulous on hearing news of that outrageous appointment.

On a more serious note, the WHO, in the middle of January, was still saying that there was no evidence of human-to-human transmission of Covid-19.

This was, in fact, six weeks after the outbreak of the coronavirus in Wuhan.

In February the WHO advised that there should not be restrictions on travel from China, but it is now clear that China did not honestly disclose what was happening in Wuhan to the WHO, or indeed the world.

China attempted to suppress the news of the outbreak by intimidating Li Wenliang, a prominent doctor, who had originally identified the coronavirus and then raised the alarm about its deadly capacity.

Despite that he persevered and was proven correct in his estimation of the potency and grave danger posed by the virus outbreak.

Sadly, he sacrificed his own life in combating the spread of the virus.

Ironically, he was posthumously praised for his extraordinary and courageous efforts by the Chinese authorities.

That being so, it is wrong for the WHO to be pilloried for the sins of the Chinese Government and their lack of transparency and their capacity to present inaccurate information.

The WHO should have more searching in dealing with the Chinese, but it also must be appreciated that UN organisations have to be diplomatic in coping with major world powers like China.

Its advice during the course of this pandemic has been sound.

It has strongly advocated that governments should carry out testing and contact-tracing, along with our now-familiar social distancing safeguards.

It is interesting to note that where testing has been widely applied (namely Taiwan, South Korea and Germany), they have been more successful in coping with this pandemic.

Taking all this into consideration, perhaps it is the World Health Organisation that is more sinned against than sinning.

Belfast Telegraph