The head of the World Health Organization says an independent evaluation of the global coronavirus response will be launched as soon as possible, and China has backed such a review.
WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus made his promise during a virtual meeting of the WHO’s decision-making body, the World Health Assembly, on Monday.
Chinese President Xi Jinping defended his country’s own handling of the crisis during a video speech to the meeting.
Tedros, who has always promised a post-pandemic review, said it would come “at the earliest appropriate moment” and provide recommendations for future preparedness.
“We all have lessons to learn from the pandemic. Every country and every organisation must examine its response and learn from its experience. WHO is committed to transparency, accountability and continuous improvement,” Tedros said.
The review must encompass responsibility of “all actors in good faith”, he said.
“The risk remains high and we have a long road to travel,” Tedros added, saying preliminary tests in some countries showed that at most 20 per cent of populations had contracted the disease.
However in most places the rate was less than 10 per cent.
A resolution drafted by the EU called for an independent evaluation of the WHO’s performance and appeared to have won consensus backing among the health body’s 194 states.
China has previously opposed calls for a review of the origin and spread of the coronavirus, but Xi signalled Beijing would be amenable to an impartial evaluation of the global response once the pandemic is brought under control.
“This work needs a scientific and professional attitude, and needs to be led by the WHO. And the principles of objectivity and fairness need to be upheld,” Xi told the meeting via video.
Xi called the pandemic the most serious global public health emergency since the end of World War II.
“All along we have acted with openness and transparency and responsibility,” he said.
A draft of the EU resolution made no mention of China.
It urges Tedros to initiate an “impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation” of the response to COVID-19 under the WHO “at the earliest appropriate moment”.
Diplomats said the US, which suspended its funding of the WHO during the crisis, was unlikely to block a consensus backing the resolution.
But it could “dissociate” itself from sections referring to intellectual property rights for drugs and vaccines, and to continued provision of services for sexual and reproductive health during the pandemic, they said.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called the WHO “irreplaceable”. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said Africa affirms its “full support”, but assistance to the continent should include debt relief and help with diagnostics, drugs and medical supplies.