China calls for cooperation while Trump plays the blame game
As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to cut a swath of sickness and death around the world and stifle global economies, most leaders are focused on containing it while others seem more focused on the blame game. American President Donald Trump continues to publicly attack the World Health Organization (WHO) alleging the United Nations based agency “willingly took China’s assurances to face value” and “pushed China’s misinformation,” about the coronavirus. He has doubled down on his criticism by freezing American funding to the WHO. Even worse is that Trump and his supporters have also been cynically putting forth a discredited conspiracy theory that an infectious disease laboratory in Wuhan, China was the source of the pandemic.
Many believe Trump is lashing out in a desperate attempt to absolve himself from the catastrophic impact COVID-19 has had in the United States due to his inaction and failure to have a cogent plan in place to confront the calamity. There is ample evidence to show that if the Trump administration had implemented strict and immediate measures like China, Canada, Germany, South Korea and many other countries, the impact on the United States in terms of deaths, illness and impact on the economy would have been much less severe.
The Trump administration went into the coronavirus crisis at an advantage. They had almost three months warning it was coming and government agencies telling the President to get ready. The U.S. is the world leader in medical and scientific expertise, they possess immense financial resources and are global leaders in telecoms and technology. They also have the largest and most active military in the world. Despite all this, the United States somehow become the global epi-centre of the pandemic with over 1.1 million cases and 64,000 deaths as of May 1, 2020.
On Wednesday, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus responded to the Trump’s accusations without referring to him directly saying, “More than ever, the human race should stand together to defeat this virus." He defended the agency's record in its response to the novel coronavirus. WHO officials noted that it was three months since the WHO declared the outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern which further eroded Trump’s outburst and turned the mirror back on his administration’s disastrous response to the pandemic.
In contrast to the United States, the Canadian national response has been exceptional. The federal government has worked closely with all provincial governments to flatten the curve to keep the pandemic from spreading. As of May 1, 2020 Canada, has registered 54,000 cases and 3304 deaths. As bad as it is, earlier projections by officials predicted it would be much worse.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has refused to be drawn into the Trump administration’s COVID-19 blame game saying that the Canadian government prefers to concentrate for the time being on helping Canadians avoid getting sick. “That is our focus right now — what can we do now, what do we need to do in the coming weeks, how do we lean on experts in international institutions and in partner countries around the world for making recommendations alongside our domestic experts on what we need to do now,” Trudeau said.” There will be plenty of time as we move forward to reflect on challenges that were faced in the past. We need to learn and move forward as quickly as we can.”
Canadian government officials also went on the record this week to defend the WHO. Health Minister Patty Hajdu said, "I think it's important to realize that the WHO is not as a standalone organization without multiple sources of research feeding into it." She said that Canada remains "open" to reviewing the actions of the WHO in response to the COVID-19 but stressed her faith in the value of the WHO. “We recognize, first, the value of an organization like the World Health Organization to be able to have an international response to issues of public health and new outbreaks of new diseases," Hajdu said. “If we don’t work together, then we will never be free of this disease and we will be at risk of even more severe outbreaks in the future." Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam, who sits on one of the WHO's expert committees, also defended the organization saying, “ I think, the WHO does consist of all of its member states, of which Canada is one, but it taps into the global community of scientists, researchers, epidemiologists."
Dr. Bruce Aylward is a Canadian citizen, an infectious diseases expert and the Senior Advisor on Organizational Change to the Director-General of the WHO. He has led the design and implementation of WHO's Transformation Agenda since September 2017 and is widely credited with the WHO successful handling of the Ebola crisis in 2015. Aylward defended the U.N. agency’s relationship with China, explaining that its work with Beijing authorities was important to understand the COVID-19 outbreak which began in Wuhan.” It was absolutely critical in the early part of this outbreak to have full access to everything possible, to get on the ground and work with the Chinese to understand this,” he told reporters. “This is what we did with every other hard-hit country like Spain and had nothing to do with China specifically.”
Chinese Ambassador to Canada, Cong Peiwu, also spoke about the blame game this week in Ottawa saying, “China has actively shared epidemic information and anti-epidemic experience with the WHO and many other countries including Canada.” That co-operation has extended to 150 countries and international organizations, including on recent video conferences, he added.
When asked about Conservative politicians in Canada, who are making accusations against the WHO and are suggesting that China has undue influence on the organization, Cong responded that, “It's a time to focus on the fight against the pandemic. Unfortunately, some politicians have greatly politicized the COVID-19 issue. Actually, we don't think it's the time for accusations and political manipulation.” Cong added that, “I believe that Canada has adopted a cool-headed approach,” and reiterated that, “the most important task, currently, is to focus our energy on fighting the pandemic.”
Cong said China is committed to assisting Canada to receive all the medical equipment and supplies it needs during the pandemic. He thanked Canada on behalf of China for Canada's shipping medical supplies to China early on when China was in the midst of the crisis early in the year. China will soon ship 32-tons of diagnostic kits, N95 masks, isolation gowns and other equipment to Canada. “Our two countries have a tradition of supporting each other in trying times,” said Cong. “As you could recall, during the most difficult period in our fight against the pandemic, the Canadian side provided us with assistance and support, and we value that very much. As the pandemic is spreading in Canada right now, we relate to the hardship the Canadian people are going through.”
Photo: Benedikt Geyer on Unsplash