President Xi announces USD 2 billion fund to fight COVID-19; Fully backs WHO

K J M Varma

Beijing/Geneva, May 18 (PTI) President Xi Jinping on Monday announced a USD two billion fund to help countries hit by the COVID-19 as he firmly backed the World Health Organisation and its leadership, amid the growing pressure faced by China over the global spread of the deadly virus and the criticism from his US counterpart Donald Trump.

'China will provide USD two billion over two years to help with COVID-19 response and with economic and social development in affected countries, especially developing countries,” Xi said while addressing the 73rd World Health Assembly (WHA), which is being held virtually in Geneva.

The speech by 66-year-old Xi, who is known for announcing big-ticket funding during the international conferences, came as China faced growing global pressure over the lockdowns, death toll and a huge increase in coronavirus cases that has brought the world to a standstill.

Referring to China’s own battle with the COVID-19 which emerged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in December last year, Xi said, 'in China, after making painstaking efforts and enormous sacrifice, we have turned the tide on the virus and protected the life and health of our people.' He dispelled the criticism of secrecy and cover-up, saying 'all along, we have acted with openness, transparency and responsibility. We have provided information to WHO and relevant countries in a most timely fashion”.

Trump has accused China of covering up, while Australia 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.

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.' He heaped praise on the UN health agency and its Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, whom Trump described as 'pro-China'.

The two-day meeting is being held amid concerns over the role of the WHO chief who had given a clean chit to China's handling of the pandemic.

The WHO should lead the global response against COVID-19, said Xi, who is also the General Secretary of the ruling Communist Party of China.

China earlier announced USD 30 million additional funds for the WHO after Trump withdrew over USD 400 million funding to the UN body.

'Under the leadership of Dr Tedros, WHO has made a major contribution in leading and advancing the global response to COVID-19. Its good work is applauded by the international community. China calls on the international community to increase political and financial support for WHO so as to mobilize resources worldwide to defeat the virus,” he said.

He also called for greater support to African countries, where China has emerged as a major investor in recent years.

'China has sent a tremendous amount of medical supplies and assistance to over 50 African countries and the African Union. Five Chinese medical expert teams have also been sent to the African continent,” he said.

Calling for united efforts by the world to fight the COVID-19, he said, 'China will work with the UN to set up a global humanitarian response depot and hub in China, ensure the operation of anti-epidemic supply chains and foster “green corridors” for fast-track transportation and customs clearance”.

'COVID-19 vaccine development and deployment in China, when available, will be made a global public good. This will be China’s contribution to ensuring vaccine accessibility and affordability in developing countries”, he said.

China will also work with other G20 members to implement the Debt Service Suspension Initiative for the poorest countries, he said.

'What we are facing is the most serious global public health emergency since the end of World War II,' Xi said.

'Catching the world by surprise, COVID-19 has hit over 210 countries and regions, affected more than seven billion people around the world and claimed over 300,000 precious lives. I mourn for every life lost and express condolences to the bereaved families,' he said.

The WHA is the decision-making body of the Geneva-based World Health Organisation. The annual meeting, being held virtually on Monday and Tuesday, is attended by delegations from all WHO Member States and focuses on a specific health agenda prepared by the Executive Board.

India is among 120 countries which backed the draft resolution put forward by the European Union and several other countries. India is expected to be elected Chair of the Executive Board of the WHA replacing Japan. PTI KJV ZH AKJ ZH