WHO you gonna call?100 days have passed since the Covid-19 outbreak began in Wuhan, China, and two months have passed since the first death on Jan. 11 in China. In the meantime, as the potentially deadly virus spread to more than 110 countries on six continents, over 110,000 people were confirmed infected, and the death toll has topped 4,000. The alarming developments — which resemble the Black Death in the 13th century and the Spanish flu in the early 20th century — bode ill for the future of mankind.
The novel coronavirus is affecting the lives of 7.7 billion people around the globe. And yet, the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations and all other international institutions are helplessly sitting on their hands.
Italy, a country with the second-highest number of confirmed infections, is in a “quasi state of war” nearly on a par with World War II after its government took action to restrict the movement of its 60 million nationals. In Iran, a top adviser to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei died of the lethal virus. Italy and Iran are countries closely connected with China in political and economic terms. More than a thousand patients are having a tough battle with the virus in France, Germany and Spain. In the United States, Covid-19 could be threatening the health of not only U.S. President Donald Trump but also presidential contenders in the Democratic Party who are advanced in age.
CNN declared that it will describe the disease as a pandemic from now on based on the judgments of a number of U.S. epidemiologists. However, the WHO stopped short of calling it a pandemic even while it warned that it may start doing so in the near future.
The Geneva-based global health body has been under fire for its overly meek reaction to the disease from the initial stages. It often used ambiguous rhetoric or sided with China, which donates nearly 10 trillion won ($8.4 billion) to the WHO on an annual basis. A global petition demanding the resignation of the “polluted” chief of the international organization has exceeded 300,000 signatures already.
Despite a massive death toll exceeding 3,000, Beijing is now trying to claim that it is not the source of the new virus. Its foreign minister even claimed that China helped other countries earn the time they needed before taking full-fledged quarantine measures. Why is China patting itself on the back — instead of apologizing for the enormous damages it inflicted on the rest of the world?
The way the WHO reacted to the virus was disappointing. It belatedly declared a public health emergency of international concern on Jan. 30, one month after the outbreak. It also opposed restrictions on free movement and trade citing “more losses than gains” in case of border shutdowns. But a harsh reality faces the international community. Entry bans enforced by one country after another continue fueling conflict. The WHO must reset its standards to meet the demands of the times. Otherwise, it will lose the trust it has enjoyed in the past.