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Independent panel slams China and WHO over Covid-19 response

Long-awaited report says Beijing and the UN health agency acted too slowly to stop the spread

China and the World Health Organization (WHO) should have taken action more quickly and decisively to curb Covid-19 outbreaks when the coronavirus first emerged, an independent review has concluded.

The Switzerland-based Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response (IPPPR) says that “public health measures could have been applied more forcefully by local and national health authorities in China” after cases were first detected in Wuhan at the start of last year.

In a newly published interim report, the panel also criticises the WHO “for its delays in sounding the alarm, and called for reforms to the UN agency”, says CNN

The WHO did not declare an international emergency until 30 January. And the organisation waited until 11 March to declare the outbreak a pandemic - by which point, more than 118,000 cases had been confirmed in a total of 114 countries, with more than 4,000 Covid-related deaths.

“Although the term pandemic is neither used nor defined in the International Health Regulations (2005), its use does serve to focus attention on the gravity of a health event,” the report says.

But “the global pandemic alert system is not fit for purpose”, and “the WHO has been underpowered to do the job”, according to the report authors, who are calling for a “global reset”.

The panel - co-chaired by former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark and ex-Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf -  will present their findings in full to health ministers from the WHO’s 194 member states in May.

The health agency has already faced criticism from other world powers over its pandemic response. 

The US has accused the WHO of being “China-centric”, while European countries led by France and Germany have “pushed for addressing the WHO’s shortcomings on funding, governance and legal powers”, Reuters reports.

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