Swiss could lead WHO coronavirus inquiry, suggests top official

Former WHO boss Gro Harlem Brundtland says the inquiry should be led by a neutral country. Keystone / Paul Hilton

The investigation into the World Health Organization's response to the coronavirus pandemic should be led by a national of a country like Switzerland, says former WHO boss Gro Harlem Brundtland.

"It should be someone who is not a party to the conflict between the major powers," she said, referring to the row between the US and China over WHO’s handling of the crisis. Brundtland, a former Norwegian prime minister who now heads the WHO’s Global Preparedness Monitoring Board (GPMB), was addressing a news conference in Geneva on Friday.

US president Donald Trump announced in April he was cutting off funding to the WHO, accusing it of having promoted China's "disinformation" about the virus. WHO member states agreed at a virtual meeting in May to a review of how the organization handled the crisis.

"Many leaders may not have fully believed that a real pandemic like this could take place during their term of office," Brundtland told UN correspondents. "I think that now many will realize that it can happen again" in the coming years and all countries "will have to be better prepared," she added.

Last September, the GPMB called on governments and international institutions to invest more in pandemic preparedness. It believed the threat of a pandemic that would kill "tens of millions of people" was "real". In total, it noted that only 59 countries had developed national plans.

"Many leaders now understand the implications of such a crisis for the entire society and economy," Brundtland said.

The former WHO boss is calling for reform of the International Health Regulations, which guide the multilateral response to health crises, including the issue of travel restrictions. The GPMB will propose recommendations in its next report in September.

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