Beijing’s massive response is ‘making us safer’, head of the world health body says

Leaders of the World Health Organization have applauded China’s massive response to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus multiple times in recent weeks, and they have also been challenged by some skeptical reporters as to why they kept praising China.

When a reporter from Euronews, a French TV network, again raised the question at a news conference on Wednesday evening, asking if it was the Chinese government that asked the WHO for praise in order to save face, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus became emotional.

He told reporters that when the WHO board met lately, almost all member states praised China for what it did, and they said that because China took massive action at the epicenter of the outbreak and shut down Wuhan. It helped to prevent the virus from being exported to other places in China and the rest of the world, he said.

The board members were all saying that China’s action “is making us safer”, Tedros said. He quoted a board member from the United Kingdom as saying that “this is heroic” when describing China’s action because shutting down a city or province bears serious consequences for the economy and other areas.

“So what’s wrong with acknowledging this?” Tedros asked.

Tedros, who assumed the post in 2017, said China immediately shared with the WHO the genome sequence of the novel coronavirus, which has been named 2019-nCoV. “They have helped actually in preparing other countries and in preventing the problem from growing,” he said.

He also said Chinese authorities immediately notified Germany when a Chinese woman who visited Germany tested positive for the virus after returning to Shanghai. It enabled German authorities to take prompt action to prevent any serious problem.

With the WHO’s other leading officials and top scientists sitting next to him, Tedros said that it’s important to appreciate such good actions, and he was “just telling the truth”.

The WHO chief added China doesn’t need to ask to be praised. He said he and his colleagues have seen firsthand why China deserves appreciation, citing their trip to China in late January.

Tedros was impressed that President Xi Jinping was directly leading the fight against the outbreak. “You know we always ask for political commitment, political leadership. That’s what we have seen,” he said. “What’s important is not stigmatizing a country or attacking a country, but standing in solidarity in fighting against the common enemy.”

“The number of newly confirmed cases reported from China has stabilized over the past week, but that must be interpreted with extreme caution. This outbreak could still go in any direction,” he said.

On Wednesday, China reported that Tuesday had the lowest number of novel coronavirus pneumonia cases in half a month. But on Thursday, as authorities changed their threshold for diagnosis, Hubei health authorities said the hard-hit Central China province reported 14,840 additional cases of the disease, which the WHO has named COVID-19, by midnight Wednesday.

The news conference on Wednesday was held at the end of a two-day global forum in Geneva on research and innovation that centered on the novel coronavirus. More than 300 scientists and researchers discussed all aspects of the outbreak and ways to control it.

Some research groups are already meeting with leading funding sources to start work immediately on the most pressing questions, such as the best approaches for infection prevention, potential therapies that could be used to treat patients and existing vaccine candidates and how to accelerate them.

“The meeting allowed us to identify the urgent priorities for research. As a group of funders we will continue to mobilize, coordinate and align our funding to enable the research needed to tackle this crisis and stop the outbreak, in partnership with the WHO,” said Yazdan Yazdanpanah, chair of the Global Research Collaboration for Infectious Disease Preparedness, a co-host of the forum.

Chen Yingqun contributed to this story.

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