Coronavirus: Emergency declaration gave world 'enough time', says WHO chief

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the WHO visited China to learn more about the virus before declaring the global emergency. PHOTO: REUTERS

GENEVA/LONDON • The director-general of the World Health Organisation (WHO) has given a robust defence of his and the agency's "timely" actions in declaring the coronavirus an international health emergency at the end of January.

The Jan 30 declaration was made in "enough time for the rest of the world to respond" because there were at that stage only 82 cases of infection and no deaths outside China, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a virtual media briefing at the United Nations health agency's Geneva headquarters on Friday.

Dr Tedros said the WHO, which is seeking to lead the global response to the Covid-19 pandemic, had used the days before declaring the global emergency as time to visit China to learn more about the new virus.

During that visit, they also won a "ground-breaking agreement" with China to send in investigators, Dr Tedros said.

Confirming that the Covid-19 pandemic is clearly still a global health emergency, Dr Tedros said he had "grave concerns about the potential impact" of the disease "as it starts to accelerate in countries with weaker health systems".

The WHO's head of emergencies, Dr Mike Ryan, said the agency was seeing worrying increases in Covid-19 cases in Haiti, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Yemen, Syria, Afghanistan, Sierra Leone and northern Nigeria.

Regarding the coronavirus that first emerged late last year in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, Dr Ryan reiterated that scientists examining its genetic sequences have assured the WHO that "this virus is natural in origin".

Washington and Beijing are locked in a war of words over the origins of the disease.

US President Donald Trump said on Thursday he was confident the coronavirus may have originated in a Chinese virology laboratory, but declined to describe the evidence. The claim has been denied by Beijing.

A WHO spokesman earlier said several investigations into the source of the virus were going on, adding that the global agency was "not currently involved in the studies in China".


Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 03, 2020, with the headline Coronavirus: Emergency declaration gave world 'enough time', says WHO chief. Subscribe