The Daily Telegraph

Prime Minister refuses to back WHO chief

No10 urges world health body to reform after US claims director-general was “bought” by China


BORIS JOHNSON has called for “reform” of the World Health Organisati­on as he refused to express confidence in its current leader.

Mr Johnson said the WHO could be better run in order for it to respond “as quickly and effectivel­y as possible” to emergencie­s, after widespread criticism of its handling of Covid-19. On

Tuesday, The Daily Telegraph disclosed that Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, had claimed that Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesu­s, the WHO’S director-general, had been “bought” by the Chinese government and that the organisati­on’s failings had contribute­d to “dead Britons”.

Mr Pompeo’s comments were greeted with fury by friends of Dr Tedros, who suggested that claims of corruption levelled against the Ethiopian were a “racist trope” and an attempt by the United States to deflect blame away from its own mishandlin­g of the pandemic.

No 10 did little to distance itself from Mr Pompeo’s comments, made during a private meeting with MPS in London. Asked whether Mr Johnson had “full confidence” in Dr Tedros and the WHO, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman declined to say that he had.

Instead, the spokesman said: “The Prime Minister believes that the WHO and its director-general are playing an important role in leading the global health response to the pandemic.

“But the UK continues to be an advocate of reform in the WHO to make sure it can react as quickly and effectivel­y as possible to future emergencie­s.”

The comments echo recent criticisms of the WHO made by President Donald Trump, who has withheld US funding from the world body over its relations with Beijing. Government sources said the Prime Minister believed the WHO needed to improve its data sharing and the speed of its response to virus outbreaks after it was criticised for being too slow to get on top of coronaviru­s in China.

Mr Johnson spoke to Dr Tedros on the phone on July 8, when he is said to have stressed it was essential to understand exactly how the coronaviru­s outbreak happened and why it was not prevented from spreading, in a coded rebuke to the organisati­on.

Mr Trump announced this month that he was pulling the US out of the WHO after saying it had failed to make “greatly needed reforms”. He has repeatedly accused the WHO of failing to obtain, vet and share informatio­n on the coronaviru­s in a timely and transparen­t way and said, in a letter to Dr Tedros on May 18, that the organisati­on had “consistent­ly ignored credible reports of the virus spreading in Wuhan in early December 2019 or even earlier”.

Mr Trump also said the WHO “parroted” China’s line in the outbreak’s early days that there was no evidence of human-to-human transmissi­on.

On Tuesday, Mr Pompeo told a meeting of MPS organised by the Henry Jackson Society, a foreign policy think tank, that Dr Tedros had struck a deal with China which allowed him to take over the director-general role from Chinese-canadian Margaret Chan.

Mr Pompeo told the MPS that the WHO was a “political” rather than “science-based organisati­on” that had failed to deal with the pandemic.

He said: “When push came to shove, when it really mattered most, when there was a pandemic in China, Dr Tedros, who was hook, line and sinker bought by the Chinese government, I can’t say more, but I can tell, I’m saying this on a firm intelligen­ce foundation, a deal was made – you know who his predecesso­r was – there was a deal-making election and when push came to shove, you get dead Britons, because of the deal that was made.”

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