Expert panel: China, WHO should have moved quicker to stop COVID pandemic

GENEVA (AP) — A panel of experts commissioned by the World Health Organization criticizes China and other countries for not moving to stem the initial outbreak of the coronavirus earlier and questions whether the UN health agency should have labeled it a pandemic sooner.

In a report issued to the media today, the panel led by former Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark says there were “lost opportunities” to set up basic public health measures as early as possible.

“What is clear to the panel is that public health measures could have been applied more forcefully by local and national health authorities in China in January,” shortly after the coronavirus began sickening clusters of people, it says.

The panel also cites evidence of cases in other countries in late January, saying public health containment measures should have been put in place immediately in any country with a likely case, adding: “They were not.”

“The reality is that only a minority of countries took full advantage of the information available to them to respond to the evidence of an emerging pandemic,” the panel says.

The experts also wondered why WHO did not declare a global public health emergency — its highest warning for outbreaks — sooner. The UN health agency convened its emergency committee on January 22, but did not characterize the emerging pandemic as an international emergency until a week later. At the time, WHO said its expert committee was divided on whether a global emergency should be declared.

“One more question is whether it would have helped if WHO used the word pandemic earlier than it did,” the panel says.

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