The chairman of the House’s China task force believes that China violated international health rules through coronavirus cover-up and that the World Health Organization failed to follow its own guidelines.
Texas Rep. Michael McCaul, the top GOP member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told the Washington Examiner that “we must hold the Chinese Communist Party and WHO Director-General Tedros accountable to prevent another pandemic from China to reach our shores.”
McCaul, leading an investigation of Chinese malfeasance, said China’s 2003 failure to “alert the world” properly to the SARS outbreak foreshadowed its handling of the coronavirus, which has killed more than 287,000 people worldwide. “Even more troubling” this time, McCaul said, was that “the organization meant to implement these rules, the WHO, blindly followed the CCP delaying necessary action to protect people around the globe.”
WHO’s 58th World Health Assembly unanimously revised the International Health Regulations in 2005, including “a scope not limited to any specific disease or manner of transmission, but covering illness … irrespective of origin or source, that presents or could present significant harm to humans.” The legally binding rules placed obligations on 194 countries to “notify WHO of events that may constitute a public health emergency of international concern.”
The new WHO regulations stemmed from China botching its response to the outbreak of the severe acute respiratory syndrome. As with COVID-2019, China was aware of the deadly new pneumonia for months but concealed it. SARS spread to 29 countries, killed at least 774 people, and infected thousands.
China detected a new and unknown SARS-like coronavirus in late December, but Beijing appears to have failed to report evidence within the 24-hour mandate and acknowledged only “pneumonia of unknown cause” to WHO in early January.
There is evidence that China covered up the coronavirus’s spread, muzzled whistle blowers, intimidated doctors, misled WHO, and blocked outside health experts. Studies indicated that if China had acted faster, the global spread would’ve been greatly reduced. It was reported that China knew around late December that human-to-human transmission was occurring, but on Jan. 14, WHO tweeted that “Chinese authorities have found no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission.”
McCaul’s office argued that China violated Articles 6 and 7 of the IHR about how countries must report disease outbreaks when it came to the coronavirus outbreak. Article 7 mandates swift “information-sharing” by countries “if a State Party has evidence of an unexpected or unusual public health event within its territory, irrespective of origin or source, which may constitute a public health emergency of international concern.”
The congressman’s office also said WHO violated Article 9 of the IHR, which requires that it investigate reports, such as those from Taiwan at the end of December, which it allegedly ignored.
WHO did not respond to the Washington Examiner’s questions about the examples of China-WHO rule-breaking cited by McCaul, nor did it answer questions about why it has praised China’s response to the outbreak.
It is unclear what penalties could successfully be imposed against China within the framework of the IHR, though Article 56 of the rules provides guidelines for the “settlement of disputes.” If the United States were to accuse China of breaking the rules, the complaint could be submitted to WHO’s chief to settle, or the matter could make its way to the international Permanent Court of Arbitration located in Hague.
The IHR says countries must report any disease where: there is a “pathogen with high potential to cause epidemic”; there is “indication of treatment failure,” such as no vaccine; “cases are reported among health staff”; “the population at risk is especially vulnerable,” such as the elderly; and the outbreak is “in an area with high population density.” The coronavirus in Wuhan, China, checked all those boxes.
The IHR also includes a flowchart by which a country “shall assess” diseases that are “unusual or unexpected and may have serious public health impact,” which China appears to have ignored.
WHO did not declare the coronavirus outbreak a global pandemic until March 11.
Last month, President Trump said that “WHO really blew it” and that the U.S. would be pulling its funding for the international organization because of its response to the coronavirus pandemic.
The U.S. intelligence community reportedly believes the Chinese Communist Party downplayed the severity of the initial coronavirus outbreak and that China continues to mislead about the infection rate and death toll inside the country. Beijing has denied orchestrating a cover-up of its coronavirus response.