WHO Critiqued for Cozying up to China

People wearing protective suits walk from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, with around 3,600 people quarantined onboard due to fears of the new coronavirus, at the Daikoku Pier Cruise Terminal in Yokohama port, February 10, 2020. Image: Charly Triballeau/AFP/Getty
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People wearing protective suits walk from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, with around 3,600 people quarantined onboard due to fears of the new coronavirus, at the Daikoku Pier Cruise Terminal in Yokohama port, February 10, 2020. Image: Charly Triballeau

Did WHO praise for China’s response early on hurt efforts to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus? Mounting evidence that Chinese officials silenced whistleblowers and undercounted cases while the WHO praised China’s response are testing faith in the WHO’s credibility at a critical time, The Washington Post reports.

“We were deceived,” says Georgetown University’s Lawrence Gostin. He says that the WHO’s optimistic stance led public health experts to pass on “a false sense of assurance.”

But others note WHO must tread carefully to keep countries in crisis engaged. In a statement, the WHO said Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus “welcomes and expects scrutiny of the response effort.”

Chinese officials, meanwhile, are stepping up censorship, NPR’s Goats and Soda reports. Authorities swiftly deleted messages calling for freedom of speech following the death of Li Wenliang—a doctor who died from the virus—and messages from Wuhan residents pleading for medical care and supplies.  

An uptick in case counts between Saturday and Sunday dashed the government’s hopes that containment efforts were working; the death toll in mainland China hit 908 by midnight Sunday—passing the fatality toll of SARS, believed to have killed 774 in 2002-3, AP reports.

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