News World Coronavirus briefing: China refused to give WHO data, leaked recordings reveal

Coronavirus briefing: China refused to give WHO data, leaked recordings reveal

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (centre) heads the global health emergency response over coronavirus. Photo: Getty
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At the height of the coronavirus outbreak, Chinese officials kept vital information from the World Health Organisation which could have slowed the spread and saved lives.

Recordings obtained by the Associated Press (AP) revealed WHO staffers were tossing up how to keep China on side while pressing them to provide gene sequences and detailed patient data.

Desperate to not anger officials, the WHO publicly praised China by claiming it had “immediately” shared with them a genetic map of the virus, the investigation found.

WHO claimed China’s commitment to transparency was “very impressive, and beyond words”, – even as officials were struggling to get the information they needed from them.

Pressure has been mounting on WHO in recent weeks as US President Donald Trump accused the UN agency of being too beholden to China.

Mr Trump announced earlier this week his administration was “terminating” its relationship with the World Health Organisation.

Mr Trump has repeatedly threatened to eliminate American funding for the group, while blaming China for the spread of the coronavirus and the economic impact it has had on the global economy.

“China has total control over the World Health Organisation despite only paying $40 million per year compared to what the United States has been paying which is approximately $450 million a year,” he said at the weekend.

The latest evidence through the AP investigation shows how WHO officials struggled to get accurate and timely information from China as far back as January.

AP found China had researched the mysterious illness but refused to give the genetic map of the coronavirus until it was leaked to a virologist website.

Fearing a repeat of the SARS outbreak, WHO’s chief of emergencies Michael Ryan, told colleagues in the second week of January that it was time to “shift gears” and apply greater pressure on China for the release of information.

“This is exactly the same scenario, endlessly trying to get updates from China about what was going on,” WHO’s chief of emergencies Michael Ryan could be heard saying in the leaked recordings.

“WHO barely got out of that one with its neck intact given the issues that arose around transparency in southern China.”

Bosses and unions join to talk up reform

Business and unions will kick off an examination of workplace reform as the Morrison government considers targeted cash support to help Australia’s economy out of the coronavirus slump.

Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter will join union heads Sally McManus and Michele O’Neil and a range of employer associations on Wednesday for a roundtable meeting to decide how to make the review of the system work.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced last week five small working groups would each examine a specific area of workplace reform in a bid to boost jobs and get the economy moving again.

Wednesday’s meeting will be briefed by Treasury officials and other bureaucrats about the scale of the challenge each sector faces.

Federal cabinet is expected to consider targeted support for two sectors – construction and the arts – with announcements anticipated this week.

The government is considering a plan for cash grants to build new homes or for major renovation projects to stimulate domestic building jobs.

More than 7200 Australians have tested positive to coronavirus, with about 480 cases remaining active across the country.

Twenty patients are in hospital, with three in intensive care and one on a ventilator.

-with AAP