The escalation in rhetoric is a reversal from the WHO’s previous practice early in the pandemic of appearing to go easy on China.
“We continue to ask China for more rapid, regular, reliable data on hospitalizations and deaths, as well as more comprehensive, real-time viral sequencing,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a press briefing in Geneva Wednesday.
“WHO is concerned about the risk to life in China and has reiterated the importance of vaccination, including booster doses, to protect against hospitalization, severe disease, and death,” he said.
WHO Executive Director for Health Emergencies Mike Ryan reportedly also noted Wednesday that the current figures China is putting out “under-represent the true impact of the disease” when it comes to deaths, hospital, and intensive care numbers.
“Since COVID began, China has shared information and data with the international community in an open and transparent manner. We shared the genome sequence of the virus at the earliest opportunity, making important contribution to the drug and vaccine research and development in countries around the world,” she claimed.
“Facts have proven that China has always maintained close communication with the WHO and shared information and data on the epidemic in a timely, open and transparent manner in accordance with law. At the moment, China’s COVID situation is under control. As China adjusts its COVID response policy, we will continue to carry out activities including technical exchanges with the WHO. It is hoped that the WHO Secretariat will take a science-based, objective and just position and play a positive role in addressing the pandemic globally,” she added.
She was also asked about President Joe Biden, who said Wednesday he is worried about how the country is addressing the disease.
“We also call on all parties to take science-based and proportionate response measures not targeting any specific country, avoid remarks and actions that politicize the epidemic, jointly safeguard normal people-to-people exchange and work together for an early victory over the pandemic,” she responded in part.
Chinese authorities said they discussed the health situation with the WHO and its member states on Thursday. They said there had been one new COVID death for Wednesday on the mainland, which was down from a previous rate of five per day.
The country recently got rid of its COVID restrictions, leading to concerns of a widespread outbreak across the country due to the intense lockdowns that the government has imposed on its citizens. Funeral homes across the country have been feeling strained as they fill up.
China’s lack of forthrightness may not be surprising to many people around the world who watched as the country likely hid information about COVID in the early months of the pandemic, resulting in the massive spread of the virus across the globe.
During the early days of the pandemic, the WHO appeared to be less interested in China’s lack of reporting, and received criticism for not getting the country to release more important information.
A Washington Post report from February of 2020 detailed how the WHO backed China early on before the virus shut down the globe. The WHO’s director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, even praised the “transparency” of China’s reaction to the virus.
Tedros did eventually admit that China had not been helpful in providing information for the WHO’s COVID report that was released last year.
On Wednesday, Biden weighed in on China’s response, saying he was worried about how the country is dealing with COVID. “China has not been … they’re very sensitive … when we suggest they haven’t been that forthcoming,” Biden told the press.
“There’s a lot more data that needs to be shared from China and additionally from around the world so that we can track this pandemic as we enter this fourth year,” Maria Van Kerkhove of the WHO said Wednesday.
“We need more information on sequencing around the country, (and for) those sequences to be shared with publicly available databases like GISAID so that deeper analyses can be done,” she added.