Health secretary Alex Azar slams WHO as China backs coronavirus investigation

Health secretary Alex Azar slams WHO as China backs coronavirus investigation

Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar blasted the World Health Organization Monday during its two-day assembly as China's President Xi Jinping appeared to express support for an independent investigation into the pandemic.

Appearing by video link, Azar criticized the WHO's failures during the coronavirus outbreak, telling officials gathered for the virtual conference that it had cost "many lives."

"We must be frank about one of the primary reasons that this outbreak spun out of control. There was a failure by this organization to obtain the information that the world needed," he said. "In an apparent attempt to conceal this outbreak, at least one member state made a mockery of their transparency obligations, with tremendous costs for the entire world," he said, apparently referring to China, though he did not name the country.

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Azar's criticism of the WHO came as Xi delivered a speech over video to the WHO that seemed to signal a willingness by China to participate in an international, WHO-led investigation into the origins of the pandemic. China has been resisting such a move for weeks amid increasingly acerbic rhetoric it has exchanged with the Trump administration. But Beijing has come under renewed pressure to cooperate with an inquiry because the European Union, Russia, Turkey and many African countries have backed a resolution calling for a probe into how the outbreak was managed.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Monday he would launch an independent evaluation of WHO’s response "at the earliest appropriate moment." It's not immediately clear if the WHO's 194 members will also vote on the resolution.

However, Xi put conditions around any China participation in a coronavirus probe.

Namely, that the outbreak must first be fully over. Xi also used the opportunity to tout China's globalist credentials, saying in his address Monday that his country would donate $2 billion to the United Nations to help with health-care infrastructure needs in Africa, where coronavirus is beginning to take hold at an alarming rate.

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"At this critical juncture, to support the WHO is to support international cooperation and the battle to save lives," Xi said. "China takes as its responsibility not only the lives and health of its citizens but global public health."

Xi said China supports the idea of a rigorous review of the global response to coronavirus as long as it is "based on science and professionalism led by WHO, and conducted in an objective and impartial manner."

Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar listens during a vaccine development announcement on May 15, 2020, in the Rose Garden of the White House.

Still, it is not clear how thoroughly any inquiry would probe the origins of the pandemic. In a draft of the resolution, put together by the EU, neither China nor any other country is singled out. It calls for an "impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation" of "the (WHO)-coordinated international health response to COVID-19." The text focuses on international collaboration rather than questioning the virus' source.

China has come under fire amid claims it covered up early signs of the outbreak.

President Donald Trump has claimed he has seen proof that coronavirus originated in a lab in Wuhan, China. China has rejected this allegation. The scientific community has insisted all evidence to date shows the virus likely jumped into humans from animals. Trump has not described any of the evidence he says exists. He has ordered a temporary suspension of U.S. funding for WHO pending a review of its early response.

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