India supports move at WHO to seek origin of coronavirus; Xi announces USD 2bn to fight COVID pandemic

New Delhi, May 18 (PTI) India on Monday joined nearly 120 countries at a crucial conference of the World Health Organisation in pushing for a probe into the origin of coronavirus as also comprehensive evaluation of the global response to the pandemic that has killed over 3.17 lakh people and afflicted nearly 48 lakh besides wrecking the world economy.           During the two-day 73rd session of the World Health Assembly (WHA) which is taking place in Geneva amid growing calls, including by US President Donald Trump, to investigate how the virus originated in China's Wuhan city and subsequent action by Beijing, Chinese president Xi Jinping said his country had provided all relevant outbreak data to WHO and other countries, including the virus' genetic sequence, 'in a most timely fashion.'        Announcing that China will provide USD 2 billion over two years to fight the coronavirus pandemic, Xi also asserted that “We have shared control and treatment experience with the world without reservation.....done everything in our power to support and assist countries in need.' Representing India at the meet, Union health minister Harsh Vardhan said the country took all the necessary steps well in time to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, and asserted that the country has done well in dealing with the disease till now and is confident of doing better in months to come.      Prime Minister Narendra Modi personally monitored the situation and ensured a preemptive, proactive and graded response, leaving no stones unturned to contain the deadly virus from spreading, Vardhan said.       'India took all necessary steps well in time, including surveillance at points of entry, evacuation of nationals stranded overseas, massive community surveillance through robust disease surveillance network, strengthening of health infrastructure, capacity building of over two million frontline human resources, risk communication and community involvement,' he said.       'I think we did our best and we did well. We are learning and we are confident of doing better in the months to come,' Vardhan added.       WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who had asserted that the event would be 'one of the most important (WHAs) since we were founded in 1948', pledged that he will begin an independent evaluation of the UN health agency's response to the coronavirus pandemic 'at the earliest appropriate moment.' The WHA's assembly, which is curtailed from the usual three weeks to two days and held for the first time through video conferencing, is expected to delve into pooling in additional resources to deal with the pandemic.       However, there are concerns that US-China tensions could derail the strong action needed to address the coronavirus pandemic.

Another flash point between China and the US has been over the Trump administration's push for inclusion of Taiwan in the WHO. China has been strongly opposed to the move as it considers Taiwan to be part of its territory.        A draft resolution pushed by the 27-nation European Union and supported by a large number of countries for deliberations at the WHA called for a step-wise process of impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation of the WHO-coordinated international response to COVID-19.          It, however, did not mention China. The coronavirus pandemic was first reported in Wuhan, a port city in China in December last year. Since then, it has spread to over 180 countries.          While the US is not the signatory of the draft resolution, Trump has accused China of covering up, and the European Union have called for more transparency in China’s COVID-19 control efforts including an independent inquiry into the origins of the virus.          The resolution sought scientific and collaborative field missions to trace the origin of the coronavirus, saying such an exercise will enable targeted interventions and a research agenda to reduce the risk of similar events in future.          It also called for continuing to work closely with the World Organisation for Animal Health, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN and other countries as part of the one-health approach to identify the zoonotic source of the virus and the route of introduction to the human population.         The resolution says possible role of intermediate hosts should also be evaluated. It has been uploaded on the website of the WHO.         Besides India, the countries which supported the draft resolution included Australia, Bangladesh, Belarus, Bhutan, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Djibouti, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guyana, Iceland, Indonesia, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Maldives and Mexico.         Montenegro, New Zealand, North Macedonia, Norway, Paraguay, Peru, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Moldova, Russia, San Marino, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Turkey, Ukraine and the UK and Northern Ireland are also backing the resolution, according to the WHO.         The African Group comprising around 50 countries are also supporting the resolution.

Without referring to the global calls for an inquiry, Xi said, 'China supports the idea of a comprehensive review of the global response to COVID-19 after it is brought under control to sum up the experience and address deficiencies. This work should be based on science and professionalism, led by the WHO and conducted in an objective and impartial manner.' The draft resolution also pitched for making recommendations to improve global pandemic prevention mechanisms including through strengthening the WHO's health emergencies programme. PTI MPB ASK PLB PYK PYK