WHO allows China to seize the reins of investigation into origin source of the coronavirus

The WHO has repeatedly bowed to Beijing throughout the pandemic, including when it comes to figuring out where it all started

Updated: November 2, 2020 - 3:46pm

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

Nine months after the beginning of the global coronavirus pandemic, there is still no public, independent investigation into the origins of the novel virus that came out of China.

In an investigation published by the New York Times, the newspaper concludes that the Chinese government has failed to cooperate in any way with the World Health Organization as it, purportedly, attempts to understand the source of the virus.

The article calls the work of the WHO over the last months "both indispensable and impotent," as the United Nations-affiliated group had led a significant effort to disseminate information about testing, treatments and possible vaccines. However, the WHO has failed to slow down global -travel patterns at the pandemic's outset, due primarily to the political and economic considerations of the countries that finance the organization. 

Another performance factor that even champions of the WHO are being forced to consider is the group's willingness to bend at the knee to China.

"Even many of its supporters have been frustrated by the organization's secrecy, its public praise for China and its quiet concessions," The Times writes.

The WHO, now being watched carefully by China, and high on the list of organizations the Trump administration would be happy to see dismantled, appears to be continuing  to look for answers pertaining to the virus's beginnings.

However, the ruling Chinese Communist Party appears to be stifling some major aspects of the investigation's independence.

The WHO, for instance, will not disclose the details of its negotiations with the Chinese governments and is refusing to provide member nations of the U.N. standing body an outline of the terms of its investigation.

Furthermore, according to the Times, the WHO has agreed to allow critical elements of the investigation to be led by Chinese scientists, and Beijing has been allowed to approve the list of outside investigators working on the project.

Gian Luca Burci, a former member of the WHO's legal counsel, told the news outlet that “the W.H.O. prioritizes access to the country,” which sometimes means sacrificing what he calls "soft power." 

The organization's origin study of the novel virus will develop in two parts, according to the Times' article. The first, will be led by Chinese scientists and reviewed remotely by outside researchers. The Chinese team will review hospital data and records and interview individuals inside the country who were treated for the virus in December. They will additionally research the wildlife sold at the Wuhan wet market that became the center of the Wuhan outbreak, and attempt to trace those supply chains.

During the second phase, experts from across the globe will work with Chinese scientists in China to attempt to locate the virus's animal host and possibly an intermediate host. 

At the end of October, the internal WHO team of scientists met virtually for the first time to discuss proceeding with their investigation.

Dr. Michael Ryan, the organization's emergency director complained that "it is difficult to do this work in a politically intoxicated environment."

Yet, according to Times, Chinese diplomats and WHO officials "appear eager to pause until after the American election." The sentiment is that, should Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden claims victory after Tuesday, the American attitude toward the WHO will change dramatically.