China’s leader Xi Jinping has announced a $2 billion, two-year funding package to help tackle the coronavirus pandemic and voiced his support for the World Health Organization as he spoke at the organization’s 73rd general assembly on Monday.
Speaking via a video link, Xi China said he supports the idea of a comprehensive review of the global response to the virus once it is brought under control, an effort he said should be led by the WHO and conducted in a scientific and impartial manner.
Calling on nations to “come together and work as one,” he said the global public health needs to be strengthened as COVID-19 won’t be the last global medical emergency.
“Vaccine development and deployment in China, when available, will be made a global, public good, he said. “This will be China’s contribution to ensuring vaccine accessibility and affordability in developing countries.”
More than 100 health ministers from around the world are expected to call for an independent evaluation of the WHO’s handling of virus during the assembly.
The meeting, being held virtually for the first time, is officially focused on international cooperation on vaccines, treatments and testing to fight the virus, but has already been marred by an intensifying blame game over the WHO’s handling of the outbreak.
U.N. Secretary General António Guterres called for unity between nations fighting the pandemic as he opened the assembly, saying COVID-19 “must be a wakeup call,” and a historic opportunity to step up research and reduce inequality in access to medical care.
“Either we stand together or we fall apart,” Guterres said.
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The pandemic, which has killed more than 300,000 people worldwide, has triggered a drastic escalation in tension between the United States and China.
Last month, President Donald Trump moved to withdraw U.S. funding from the organization, accusing it of being too close to Beijing, not sharing information in a timely manner and covering up for its mistakes.
The move has been met with severe criticism at home and abroad, as WHO officials denied the claims.
The U.S. has yet to confirm if it’s planning to attend the assembly. NBC News has reached out to the State Department and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for comment, but has not heard back.
President Trump has been Beijing’s chief accuser, but he is not the only one to have alleged that Chinese officials covered up the virus during its early stages and exacerbated its spread into a pandemic.
The WHO has also faced criticism, with some observers saying the agency was at least far too credulous in believing Beijing’s reassurances, which it then amplified uncritically to the wider world.
The WHO’s director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has also been under scrutiny after he heaped praise on Beijing’s coronavirus response.
Ahead of the meeting, WHO’s COVID-19 special envoy, David Nabarro, said he hoped world leaders will delay criticism of each other’s handling of the crisis until after the pandemic is under control.
He also warned that without a unified global plan, the outbreak will only get worse.
“This virus will just come back,” Nabarro told NBC News. “It will come back very loudly, roaring, and it will cause further distress.”
Eric Baculinao contributed.