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WHO to kick off international meet amid US-China tensions

18 May 2020, 2:17:22

The World Health Organization will on Monday kick off its first ever virtual assembly, but fears abound that US-China tensions could derail the strong action needed to address the COVID-19 crisis.

The World Health Assembly, which has been trimmed from the usual three weeks to just two days, Monday and Tuesday, is expected to focus almost solely on COVID-19, which in a matter of months has killed more than 310,000 globally, and infected nearly 4.7 million.

A number of heads of state, government chiefs, health ministers and other dignitaries are expected to attend the meeting, which is due to kick off around noon on Monday.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Friday the event would be “one of the most important (WHAs) since we were founded in 1948”.

But the chance of reaching agreement on global measures to address the crisis could be threatened by steadily deteriorating relations between the world’s two largest economies over the pandemic.

US President Donald Trump last week threatened to cut ties with China, where the outbreak began late last year, over its role in the spread of COVID-19, and has repeatedly made unproven allegations that the virus originated in a Chinese lab.

He has also suspended funding to the WHO over allegations it initially downplayed the seriousness of the outbreak, and was kowtowing to Beijing.

Despite the tensions, countries hope to adopt by consensus a resolution urging a joint response to the pandemic.

The resolution, tabled by the European Union, calls for an “impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation” of the international response to the COVID crisis.

Consultations around the text concluded last week after “tough” negotiations, according to Nora Kronig, who heads the international affairs division of Switzerland’s public health office.

After several days, a tentative agreement was reached to approve the resolution, which also calls for more equitable access for tests, medical equipment, potential treatments and a possible future vaccine.

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