More than 420 days have passed since the World Health Organisation declared that a strange new disease killing people in a central Chinese city was sufficiently alarming to be declared a global health emergency.
The UN body, when making that historic statement last January, praised China for its leadership, its commitment to transparency, its sharing of data and its efforts to contain the deadly new virus.
Yet the truth could not have been more different. We know now Covid-19 may have been rampaging in Wuhan for at least ten weeks by that point.
Transmission was covered up, doctors silenced when they attempted to warn citizens, and Chinese New Year festivities went ahead.
More than 420 days have passed since the World Health Organisation declared that a strange new disease killing people in a central Chinese city was sufficiently alarming to be declared a global health emergency. Pictured: Marion Koopmans, right, and Peter Ben Embarek, center, of the World Health Organization team with Chinese counterpart Liang Wannian
It was actually Taiwanese scientists who were the first to sound an international alert.
And the Chinese government closed down the lab of the scientist who identified the genetic sequence of Sars- Cov-2 — the strain that causes Covid-19 — after the information was revealed to the world only by an Australian expert who shared it on behalf of his frustrated colleague.
So much for Chinese leadership and transparency.
Studies suggest that had the Chinese authorities acted just three weeks earlier, the virus might have been contained with 95 per cent fewer cases.
Instead it hurtled around the planet leaving death, devastation and misery in its wake.
The WHO, despite its lofty mission to protect global health, appears to have learned nothing. Once again we see this craven body prostrating itself before China in a bid to appease the repulsive Communist regime, while failing yet again in its duty to the world.
What was meant to be the WHO’s authoritative inquiry into the origins of the virus — its dismal 120-page report is now branded a ‘joint study with China’ — tailors its findings to suit Beijing.
So it insists the disease was most likely to have passed from bats through an ‘intermediate animal host’ before its eruption in Wuhan — despite zero evidence from the testing of thousands of animals.
The inquiry accepts China’s dates for the first case, which conflict with reports of earlier ones, and insists there was a ‘possible pathway’ for the virus to be imported into Wuhan via frozen food, perhaps from outside its borders — an idea dismissed by the majority of independent experts.
And the Chinese government closed down the lab of the scientist who identified the genetic sequence of Sars- Cov-2 — the strain that causes Covid-19 — after the information was revealed to the world only by an Australian expert who shared it on behalf of his frustrated colleague. Pictured: Shi Zhengli works with other researchers in a lab at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan
Most controversially, it declared the suggestion it originated in a leak from a laboratory ‘extremely unlikely’ and the ‘least likely hypothesis’, despite admitting that such accidents can happen, with researchers becoming infected by pathogens in the process.
The conclusions are unsurprising. China furiously resisted any outside inquiry for months — then demanded the right to vet the experts sent, controlled all the data and ruthlessly managed the team’s brief study time in Wuhan.
We still have no idea how this virus emerged and natural transmission remains highly plausible — but there is considerable circumstantial evidence pointing to a lab leak.
Wuhan is hundreds of miles from the horseshoe bat caves, a source of the closest-known relative of Sars-Cov-2. But it is Asia’s leading centre of research on bat coronaviruses.
Poor bio-safety was a known concern in these labs, while scientists carried out risky ‘gain of function’ research to fast-track evolution of viruses (which critics feared could spark a pandemic) and used cloning techniques that leave no sign of human interference.
And this new disease appeared well adapted to infecting humans, possessing an unusual mutation that allows its spike protein to bind to many cells.
Indeed, a lab leak was the first explanation that came to mind of the top expert at Wuhan lab, which removed its key databases from public view.
Two Chinese scientists who had the temerity to blame a lab leak hastily deleted the paper making this allegation.
Meanwhile, the regime sought to blame others — even pushing claims this week that Covid-19’s emergence might be linked to a U.S. military base 7,500 miles from Wuhan — and threatened citizens with execution if they spoke out of turn about the virus.
The WHO has had a poor pandemic — just as it performed badly during the 2014 Ebola crisis. Pictured: Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization, left, shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping
None of this is proof there was a lab leak. But it certainly makes the suggestion more worthy of investigation than the daft idea that this deadly disease was imported into China in a packet of frozen pangolin or slab of chilled pork.
Not least when the U.S. State Department has publicly voiced suspicions over sickness among Wuhan researchers in autumn 2019.
Altogether, this is yet another critical failure by the WHO under its director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus — a former foreign minister of a thuggish one-party state, Ethiopia — closely allied to China.
The WHO has had a poor pandemic — just as it performed badly during the 2014 Ebola crisis, when it slapped down pleas from the charity Médecins Sans Frontières to help and refused to arrange visas for experts.
I saw the horrifying consequences of global inaction amid the dead and dying victims of that cruel disease in Liberia. So I hoped fervently the WHO would have learned its lesson under its new leadership. How wrong I was.
Yet Dr Tedros has joined 24 world leaders, including Boris Johnson, France’s Emmanuel Macron and Germany’s Angela Merkel, to demand a new global treaty to improve future pandemic preparation.
He talks of how ‘the world has come together as never before ’ — despite all the bitter arguments between Washington and Beijing, and the recent outbreak of vaccine nationalism in Europe as countries feud over supplies.
Given all the wrangling over vaccines, it seems ironic this appeal for unity was reportedly the idea of Charles Michel, president of the European Council (though they acknowledge the divisions exposed).
Their communique is right to argue for more robust global health architecture to protect future generations from pandemics. Covid is, as they say, a painful reminder that ‘nobody is safe until everyone is safe’.
But this pandemic has proven the WHO is not up to the job without major reform. Pictured: Medical staff outside the Red Cross Hospital in Wuhan in January 2020
But this pandemic has proven the WHO is not up to the job without major reform. It is too supine, too conflicted, to stand up to powerful countries trying to hide the truth.
Because above all, this new disease has exposed the brutal face of China under its hardline president Xi Jinping.
It has shown itself to be a sinister and self-serving dictatorial regime that will stop at nothing to protect its ruling party and pursue their long march to global supremacy.
Instead of displaying leadership, it has used the cover of pandemic to crush freedom in Hong Kong with a draconian security law and overhaul of the electoral system to ensure the legislature is dominated by pro-Beijing stooges.
It is jailing Hong Kong’s dissidents, crushing democracy in defiance of the handover deal with Britain and, reportedly, even sent one activist into a psychiatric unit to silence him.
These disturbing events, just like the frustrating search to find the pandemic’s origins, prove China cannot be trusted under President Xi.
The WHO has behaved badly, but the real villains of this crisis are to be found in Beijing.