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Two red lines the US will not cross

The United States mission to the World Health Assembly said it firmly backs an investigation into the coronavirus pandemic but must “disassociate” itself on two key issues. The US delegation published a statement following Tuesday’s decision by members to support a plan tabled by the European Union that called for a comprehensive review of the…

The United States mission to the World Health Assembly said it firmly backs an investigation into the coronavirus pandemic but must “disassociate” itself on two key issues.

The US delegation published a statement following Tuesday’s decision by members to support a plan tabled by the European Union that called for a comprehensive review of the pandemic and how it began.

“We applaud the call for an impartial, independent, and comprehensive review of the WHO’s response, to be undertaken in consultation with member states, and we urge that work to begin now,” the US said.

“This will help ensure we have a complete and transparent understanding of the source of the virus, timeline of events, early discussions, and the decision-making process for the WHO’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

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But the team took issue with paragraphs pertaining to women’s reproductive rights and the issue of pooling resources such as patents in the quest for a vaccine.

“Unfortunately, despite our best efforts at working toward consensus language in all areas of this resolution, we regret that the United States must disassociate itself from a few paragraphs,” it said.

The country claimed it could not support references to “sexual and reproductive health” as they believed in “legal protections for the unborn… As President Trump has stated, Americans will never tire of defending innocent life”.

The US also refused to back sections that commit to pooling patents for treatments such as vaccines and ensuring equitable distribution, saying it would send the “wrong message to innovators who will be essential to the solutions the whole world needs.”

Australian and European Union leaders hailed the adoption of the motion as a success.

Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne and Health Minister Greg Hunt released a joint statement saying “there is also a clear mandate to identify the source of the COVID-19 virus and how it was transmitted to humans, which will be necessary to prevent and reduce the risks of the emergence of new diseases that pass from animals to humans.

“Australia has been clear and transparent in calling for an independent review into COVID-19, which is an unprecedented global health and economic crisis.”

WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus welcolmed the resolution that would eventually include a verdict on his performance.

“We want accountability more than anyone,” Tedros said on Tuesday. “We will continue providing strategic leadership to co-ordinate the global response.”

He made no reference to a scathing letter from US President Trump threatenting to permanently cut funding to the body if it did not improve within 30 days.

Earlier, a spokeswoman declined to comment on the letter, saying the UN health agency had “been busy” preparing for the two-day virtual summit.

WHO spokeswoman Fedela Cahiab said she had seen the letter but “I don’t have any reaction, we have been busy trying to finalise our agenda for the World Health Assembly.”

“I am sure in the course of the day we will have more clarity and reaction to this letter,” she said.

It comes after President Trump posted a “self explanatory” letter to WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on his Twitter page on Monday.

The lengthy letter accused the 194 member WHO of an “alarming lack of independence from the People’s Republic of China.”

It blamed the WHO of acting too slowly, wrongly praising Chinese transparency and blamed them for “repeated missteps” that have proven “very costly for the world” during the coronavirus pandemic. Trump also threatened to cut off funding to the body at a critical time.

It comes after the opening day of the summit in which the WHO director general said he would back a review into the pandemic when the time was right.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping also said he would support a WHO-led investigation into the virus once it was “under control”.

The US is the worst hit country in the world amid the virus pandemic and President Trump is under pressure to defend his administration’s actions which critics claim have been too slow.

Nearly five million people have been infected with coronavirus around the world with more than 315,000 deaths so far.

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