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China supports review of its handling of COVID outbreak

The head of the World Health Organization said on Monday an independent evaluation of the global coronavirus response would be launched as soon as possible, and China has backed such a review.

Director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus made his promise during a virtual two-day meeting of the WHO’s decision-making body, the World Health Assembly, at which Chinese President Xi Jinping defended his country’s own handling of the crisis.

Mr Xi told the World Health Assembly in Geneva that China had been open and transparent about the coronavirus outbreak which started in Hubei province in late 2019, and said his country would support an investigation “conducted in an objective and impartial way”.

China will also provide $US2 billion ($3.09b) over two years towards helping with the COVID-19 response and Mr Xi promised any vaccine developed by his country would be made a global public good.

U.S. President Donald Trump has fiercely questioned the WHO’s performance during the pandemic and led international criticism of China’s handling of the early stages of the crisis. He cancelled the US contribution to WHO but has since partially resumed funding.

Tedros, who has always promised a post-pandemic review, said it would come “at the earliest appropriate moment” and would provide recommendations for future preparedness.

Alex Azar, Trump’s health secretary, told the assembly that the pandemic had “spun out of control” in great part due to a costly “failure” by the World Health Organization, and called for a more effective WHO. “There was a failure by this organization to obtain the information that the world needed, and that failure cost many lives,” he said. Azar, without naming China, said: “In an apparent attempt to conceal this outbreak, at least one member state made a mockery of their transparency obligations, with tremendous costs for the entire world.

“We saw that WHO failed at its core mission of information sharing and transparency when member states do not act in good faith. This cannot ever happen again.”

China had previously opposed calls for a review of the origin and spread of the coronavirus, but President  Xi signalled Beijing would be amenable to an impartial evaluation of the global response once the pandemic is brought under control.

Not long before Azar spoke, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo praised Taiwan for its response to the pandemic, for mounting “one of the most successful efforts to contain COVID to date.” “Transparent, vibrant and innovative democracies like Taiwan always respond faster and more effectively to pandemics than authoritarian regimes,” he said in a statement calculated to irritate China who refuses to recognize Taiwanese independence. The United States has repeatedly clashed with China over its refusal to allow Taiwan full access to WHO, helping to further fuel tension between Washington and Beijing.

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