The Biden administration has decided to whitewash the World Health Organization’s first mistakes and misjudgments in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The mistakes of WHO were glaring and consequential in the moment, not just in retrospect. Up until mid-January 2020, WHO echoed Beijing’s false assessment that the virus was not contagious. Back on January 23, 2020, the WHO “declined to designate the ongoing outbreak of a novel virus in China a global health emergency, saying that, for now, health officials are sufficiently equipped to combat the outbreak there and in other countries and that the agency does not need the additional authorities that come from such a declaration.” That was a ridiculous underestimation of the pandemic; two days earlier, the Chinese government had just admitted that the virus could be spread from human to human and spread to seven countries. In early February, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus kept insisting there was no need for measures that “unnecessarily interfere with international travel and trade.”
As the fire was starting to blaze out of control, WHO was assuring the world not to worry about the smoke they smelled.
You don’t have to be a crazed right-winger to see this as WHO failing in its core mission, protecting the health of the world’s human beings.
Michael Collins of the Council on Foreign Relations wrote, “The WHO’s weak response to China’s mishandling of the COVID-19 outbreak has laundered China’s image at the expense of the WHO’s credibility.” In The Atlantic, Kathy Gilsinan conceded, “Inherent structural problems at the WHO do make the organization vulnerable to misinformation and political influence, especially at a moment when China has invested considerable resources cultivating influence in international organizations.” Foreign Policy magazine labeled WHO “China’s coronavirus accomplice.” Japan’s deputy prime minister derisively nicknamed the organization “the Chinese Health Organization” for its adherence to China’s preferred narrative. The director’s own staff characterized him as “naïve” in his dealings with China and “stubborn” when his actions come under criticism.
None of this is mentioned, acknowledged, or even vaguely alluded to in Biden’s letter to WHO or in Dr. Anthony Fauci’s address to the World Health Organization executive board meeting. The Biden administration could argue that the WHO will work more effectively if the United States chooses to remain a member. But it is hard to believe that the organization will fix problems that no one is willing to openly discuss.