The director general of the WHO (World Health Organization) demanded more information from Beijing about the origin of Covid-19 and said that the entity is ready to send a second team to the country to investigate the emergence of Sars-Cov-2, now that the origin of the pandemic is still unclear almost four years after the first cases emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan.
“We are pressing China for full access and are asking countries to raise the issue during their bilateral meetings, [para pedir a Pequim] to cooperate,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “We have already asked in writing to provide us with information and we are also willing to send a team if they allow us to do so.”
The WHO chief’s comments come as health authorities update vaccinations following a surge in coronavirus cases. Although scientists agree that the world is no longer in the acute phase of the pandemic, the global health body said that nations must increase surveillance of subvariants, such as BA.2.86, and other omicron variants.
World leaders will discuss pandemic preparedness for the first time at meetings during the UN General Assembly in New York.
Tedros told the Financial Times that he traveled to Beijing to convince Chinese President Xi Jinping in January 2020 to allow the first WHO Covid-19 expert mission, led by the health body’s Bruce Aylward, to visit the country.
The two most prominent theories suggest a jump of the virus from animals to humans via Wuhan’s markets or contamination from an accidental leak from the city’s virology laboratory. But no scientific consensus emerged from the debate, and Tedros reiterated that all options remain “open.”
“Unless we have evidence that eliminates any doubts, we can’t just say this or that,” he said. But he said he believes “we will have the answer. It’s a matter of time.”
Of his meeting with Xi, Tedros said: “I went and met the president. The officials under him were not willing to allow us to send a team. So I had to travel to convince him why this is so important.”
A day after Tedros returned to Geneva, according to the director-general, the WHO declared Covid-19 a public health emergency of international concern, the highest designation used by the entity. This classification was only revoked in May of this year.
The WHO has been accused of being too lenient with China’s initial response, which critics say allowed global transmission rates to soar beyond its borders. But Tedros rejected that account, saying the organization collaborated with China while taking steps to limit the virus, and then openly criticized Beijing when it did not allow the health body to effectively investigate the origins of Covid-19, he said.
The entity returned to China to carry out its first origins mission in early 2021, but returned with an inconclusive and highly criticized report, citing a lack of cooperation from Beijing as a factor. “On the source study, because they’re not giving us full access, we started discussions privately, and when they refused to cooperate, we made it public,” Tedros said.
“If we know [a origem], then we can prevent the next one. So it’s science,” he said. “It won’t be morally right if we don’t know what happened.”
He said “the pandemic has been politicized from the beginning.” In mid-2020, then-US President Donald Trump temporarily withdrew funding and threatened to withdraw Washington from the WHO as pressure mounted with the outbreak of the new coronavirus. Such measures have complicated the need to build “global solidarity” around managing the public health crisis, Tedros said.
While there are still no answers for “all those who have paid for this pandemic”, Tedros said the coronavirus crisis has made many governments realize the value of strengthening the resilience of their health systems.
“In many countries, health is not considered central to development. And health is actually considered a cost,” he said. “And now [após a pandemia]I think people are starting to realize that it’s actually an investment that can prevent pandemics.”