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Whom Does WHO Trust?

Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus speaks next to Michael J. Ryan, Executive Director of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme, during a news conference on the coronavirus in Geneva, Switzerland, January 29, 2020. (Denis Balibouse/Reuters)

A tweet from the World Health Organization, January 14: “Preliminary investigations conducted by the Chinese authorities have found no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission of the novel #coronavirus (2019-nCoV) identified in Wuhan, China.”

Chinese doctors had known since late December that the virus could spread from human to human. On January 3, China arrested eight people for “publishing or forwarding false information on the internet without verification.” Then the government issued a warning that anyone caught using social media to share coronavirus information obtained from anywhere but state-run media or organizations would face between three and seven years in jail.”

A tweet from the World Health Organization, January 23: “For the moment, WHO does not recommend any broader restrictions on travel or trade. We recommend exit screening at airports as part of a comprehensive set of containment measures.” Obviously, considering how many carriers were asymptomatic, this amounted to recommending contagious people be allowed to travel across borders.

A tweet from Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization, today: “For the first time, China has reported no domestic #COVID19 cases yesterday. This is an amazing achievement, which gives us all reassurance that the coronavirus can be beaten.”

There are videos on social media painting a very different picture in Wuhan: lines outside hospitals, surprisingly few lights on in the city at nightfall, fighting over limited food. These videos are difficult, or perhaps impossible, to verify. But we can state, with certainty, that if the situation in Wuhan or other parts of China were desperate, the government in Beijing would not tell us, and would in fact attempt to cover up the problem — just like it did with the original reports of the coronavirus. We cannot know, with absolute certainty, that China’s efforts to contain the virus are failing or only partially working. But we know with absolute certainty that it will hide any failures.

It is really not helpful for the planet’s most prominent disease prevention organization to be echoing statements from the Chinese government, now that we know the Chinese government has lied and will lie about this disease.

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