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Pandemic response probe says has full access to WHO files

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A logo is pictured on the headquarters of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva, Switzerland. Photo: Reuters

The group tasked with raking over the heavily criticised World Health Organization-led global response to the coronavirus pandemic revealed Thursday they would have full access to the WHO’s records.

The Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response (IPPR) vowed to ask tough questions of the WHO, which was accused of being slow off the mark to react to the initial Covid-19 outbreak in China.

The WHO “made it clear that their files are an open book. Anything we want to see, we see”, said former New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark, co-chair of the 13-strong IPPR group along with former Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

“We can’t count on it being another century until a pandemic like this comes around,” Clark told an online press conference.

“If another took off like this in short order, how devastating that would be, now that we know the extent of damage that can be done.”

The WHO has come under fierce attack from US President Donald Trump, who is withdrawing his country from the UN agency.

He accuses the organisation of botching its handling of the pandemic and of being a “puppet of China”.

Against that backdrop, WHO member states in May agreed on a resolution calling for an “impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation… to review experience gained and lessons learned from the WHO-coordinated international health response” to the pandemic.

It said the probe should review WHO’s “actions… and their timelines”.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus announced the launch of the panel and its co-chairs on July 10.

“We will review a series of broad themes, including the early phase of the pandemic, its emergence and its global spread,” Clark said.

“Despite many warnings for years now that such a pandemic was a significant global risk, why was the world caught off-guard?” she asked.

Clark and Sirleaf announced Thursday their choice of 11 panellists.

They include former Mexican president Ernesto Zedillo, former British foreign minister David Miliband and Joanne Liu, who savaged the WHO’s response to Ebola in Africa when she led the medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF).

“This is a strong panel poised to ask the hard questions,” Sirleaf said.

The group intends to produce interim findings in November and a full report in May 2021.


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