Transparency is key to finding the origins of the novel coronavirus that was first detected in China, German Health Minister Jens Spahn said on Monday, speaking on behalf of the European Union.
At an online meeting of the World Health Assembly, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) annual meeting of member states, Spahn welcomed the start of research into the issue, led by the WHO, after months of preparation.
While the EU welcomed initial progress in the study that began in late October, it called “for full transparency and cooperation during all of its phases,” said Spahn.
The EU also seeks to strengthen binding WHO rules regarding on-site visits by epidemiologists.
While the WHO is in constant contact with China, there has been only one fully-fledged WHO-led international mission to the country in the early stages of the outbreak.
A second team, whose mission is to investigate the possible animal origins of Covid-19, has not yet reached China, as international scientists continue to review the latest research and plan where more is needed.
US President Donald Trump has accused the UN health agency of having allowed the coronavirus to spread globally, by helping China cover up the extent of the outbreak early this year.
While Trump announced that his administration would stop funding the WHO and pull out of the Geneva-based organization in the midst of the pandemic, his successor, president-elect Joe Biden, plans to reverse the exit process.
The world should reunite to pursue global health and development goals, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Monday, in his first major speech since the recent US election.
“In that spirit, we congratulate president-elect Joe Biden and vice president-elect Kamala Harris and we look forward to working with their administration very closely,” Tedros added.
“It’s time for the world to heal – from the ravages of this pandemic, and the geopolitical divisions that only drive us further into the chasm of an unhealthier, unsafe and unfair future,” Tedros said.
Other countries have not backed Trump’s accusations, but many governments have called for a review and reform process at the WHO.
“We are committed to continuous learning, continuous improvement, and continuous accountability,” Tedros said, reporting that changes are under way to make the WHO more efficient and less bureaucratic.
Several WHO-related committees are reviewing the way the pandemic has been handled by the WHO and more broadly.
A panel which monitors the WHO’s health emergencies programme said in a report that the responsibilities of Tedros and other senior WHO officials need to be defined more clearly to tackle health crises.
Tedros, the EU countries and the review panel all agreed that the WHO needed more funding, given the global outbreak.
“A key lesson of the Covid-19 pandemic that there is a gap between WHO’s 194 member states’ expectations and requests vis-a-vis the organization and its de-facto capacities to fulfil them,” Spahn said in the EU statement.
“Business as usual does not seem right facing this global crisis,” Spahn added, speaking as Germany’s health chief.