The World Health Organisation has denied a bombshell report claiming China “urged” the organisation to “delay a global warning” about the coronavirus outbreak.
The UN agency said in a statement over the weekend that a German magazine’s report about a telephone conversation between WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and Chinese President Xi Jinping on January 21 was “unfounded and untrue”.
The weekly Der Spiegel magazine reported Mr Xi asked Mr Tedros during the call to hold back information about human-to-human transmission of the virus and delay declaring a pandemic.
The magazine quoted Germany’s foreign intelligence agency, BND, saying it concluded up to six weeks of time to fight the outbreak had been lost due to China’s information policy.
According to the BND: “On January 21, China’s leader Xi Jinping asked WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to hold back information about a human-to-human transmission and to delay a pandemic warning.
“The BND estimates that China’s information policy lost four to six weeks to fight the virus worldwide.”
The WHO released a statement shortly after the publication of the shock claims, calling them “unfounded and untrue”.
The UN agency said Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and Mr Xi “have never spoken by phone” and added that “such inaccurate reports distract and detract from WHO’s and the world’s efforts to end the COVID-19 pandemic”.
“Dr Tedros and President Xi did not speak on January 21 and they have never spoken by phone. Such inaccurate reports distract and detract from WHO’s and the world’s efforts to end the COVID-19 pandemic,” the statement read.
“China confirmed human-to-human transmission of the novel coronavirus on January 20.
“The WHO publicly declared on January 22 that ‘data collected … suggests that human-to-human transmission is taking place in Wuhan’.”
It said that China confirmed human-to-human transmission of the new coronavirus on January 20.
WHO officials issued a statement two days later saying there was evidence of human-to-human transmission in Wuhan, but more investigation was necessary.
The global body declared COVID-19 a pandemic on February 11.
The WHO has come under fire in recent months, with accusations that it has become an accomplice of the Chinese government amid the pandemic.
In April, the Trump administration alleged that the organisation was becoming a tool of “Chinese propaganda”, and President Donald Trump moved to halt funding for the organisation.
He launched a fresh attack on it during a Fox News virtual town hall meeting last week.
“The World Health Organisation has been a disaster everything they said was wrong and they’re China-centric,” he stated at the event.
“All they do is agree with China, whatever China wants to do. So our country, perhaps foolishly in retrospect has been paying US$450 million a year to the World Health Organisation and China’s been paying US$38 million a year but they were more political than all of our leaders previously.
“What they did, what World Health did, was they missed every single call and we’re not going to put up with it.”
Last month, Prime Minister Scott Morrison criticised the WHO’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak, but said the government would continue working with the organisation.
“I know they have had their criticism and, frankly, I think it has been quite deserved,” he told reporters in Canberra.
“We have got to remember also that while they might have had a few poor outings lately there is also some very important work they have been doing.”
Mr Tedros has hailed China as an exemplar of how to handle an emergency despite ongoing scepticism of the country’s official coronavirus death toll.
A four-page report dated May 1, obtained by the Associated Press, notes that China downplayed the virus publicly but increased imports and decreased exports of medical supplies.
The document accuses China of covering its tracks by “denying there were export restrictions and obfuscating and delaying provision of its trade data”.
It lends weight to a leaked dossier drawn up by the Five Eyes intelligence alliance which describes how Beijing made whistleblowers “disappear”, destroyed early virus samples and scrubbed the internet of any mention of the disease in the early stages.
More than four million people around the world have contracted the highly contagious virus, and at least 279,000 have died.
There are currently at least 1.3 million cases of coronavirus in the US and more than 79,000 deaths.