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WHO chief defends praise for response

By CHEN WEIHUA in Brussels | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2020-02-14 00:00
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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 Euronews reporter 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 recently, almost all member states praised China and said they did so because of the massive action at the epicenter of the outbreak. China shut down Wuhan, helping to prevent the virus from being exported to other places in China and the rest of the world.

Board members emphasized China's action "is making us safer", Tedros said. He quoted a British board member's description of China's action as "heroic", because shutting down a city or province also has serious side effects.

"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 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 that China doesn't need to ask for praise. He said he and his colleagues have seen why China deserves appreciation, citing their trip to China in January.

Political leadership seen

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," Tedros said.

"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 new cases of novel coronavirus pneumonia in half a month. But 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 late on Wednesday. Of those, 13,332 were due to changes in diagnostic criteria. Over 10,000 of the additional cases have been known about for days.

The news conference on Wednesday was held at the end of a two-day global forum in Geneva on research and innovation focused on the virus, where 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 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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