WHO chief defends China for receiving praise over epidemic control

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO), speaks at a press conference after the WHO emergency committee's meeting on the novel coronavirus in China at its headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, Jan. 22, 2020. (Xinhua/Liu Qu)
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO)

By Zhang Penghui

“Looking back, effusive praise has been given to China. Has the Chinese government approached the WHO to ask it to stand up and say that China is doing a good job?”

That is a question thrown by a western journalist to WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at a news conference after a global research and innovation forum held by the UN health body in Geneva, Switzerland on the night of Feb. 12, local time.

Since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus pneumonia, China has taken prompt and effective measures. The epidemic situation has shown positive changes and the prevention and control work has achieved notable outcomes thanks to the country’s hard work. Such achievements have been recognized and highly praised by the WHO and many foreign countries.

However, some countries blew the epidemic out of proportion and made overreaction. Certain foreign media outlets, rendering threats and creating panic, even called black white and made groundless attacks on China, which is exactly indicated by the above question raised.

The question was later answered by the WHO chief with facts. “The pathogen was identified in a record time and immediately they (China) shared the sequence. When they shared the sequence (with the WHO), it helped other countries to prepare the diagnostic tools to test cases. That by implication means, they have helped in preparing other countries and in preventing the problem from growing. Because when you don’t test or diagnose, cases will be missed and local transmission can be established,” Tedros explained.

Later, Tedros introduced a successful case of cooperation between China and Germany to prevent the virus from spreading.

“There was a Chinese lady who visited Germany, and she returned to Shanghai and she was found positive. Then the Chinese authorities immediately notified Germany that the positive person had visited Germany and that they had to take action. And Germany took that information and immediately took action to prevent any serious problem, and that’s why now things are under control in Germany,” he said.

“It’s very important to appreciate a country or an individual qualified for something you see. It’s the truth,” Tedros noted.

“We were in this board room for a board meeting (the 146th session of the Executive Board) and almost all member states were praising China for what it did. And they had a reason that China took action massively at the epicenter at the source of the outbreak. Its shutdown of the Wuhan city helped in preventing cases from being exported to other provinces in China and the rest of the world. And I remember a board member from the UK who said that that this is heroic, because when you shut down city and province like that, it has consequences, economically, and so on, serious consequences. The actions of China are making us safer,” said the WHO chief.

Acknowledging countries for the right things they did helps in two ways, Tedros noted. “One, it helps them to continue doing the right thing they are doing; and secondly, it helps other countries recognize the good practice that country which is recognized is doing and they can learn from that country” he stressed, adding that China doesn’t need to ask to be praised. “It was not, it is not.”

“We have met the President (Chinese President Xi Jinping). We have seen the level of knowledge he has on the outbreak; we saw firsthand that he is leading the outbreak directly. You know, we always ask for political commitment, political leadership, that’s what we have seen. So, don’t you appreciate that kind of leadership that’s really committed?

China is doing many good things that are slowing the virus. The country has opened a window of opportunity, said the WHO chief.

“Facts speak for themselves. Let the truth speak for itself, and the world can judge,” he added.

“Let’s show the solidarity. But now what’s important is not stigmatizing or attacking the country, but standing in solidarity, and fighting against this common enemy- COVID-19, or the virus. I think it’ s time to really unite and attack this virus. Let’s calm down, no panic, no fear and try to do the right thing with solidarity. That’s what I would ask,” he pointed out.

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