Matt Hancock has revealed he repeatedly tried to convince the World Health Organisation to declare the outbreak of Covid-19 an international emergency – but was ignored because its boss was ‘scared stiff’ of upsetting China.
Writing in his bombshell pandemic diaries, the former health secretary accuses WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus of pandering to Beijing because the Communist state helped fund his office.
Mr Hancock claims that he twice telephoned Dr Ghebreyesus in January 2020 about the need for international action on testing and developing vaccines to slow the pandemic.
Dr Ghebreyesus is a long-time friend of China and had even visited President Xi Jinping earlier that month. He has been accused of delaying important decisions after the first cases were discovered in Wuhan, thereby helping to protect the Chinese economy and mask the origins of the virus.
In Mr Hancock’s diaries, serialised in the Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday, he wrote on January 29, 2020: ‘I called the head of the World Health Organisation to try to persuade him – for the second time – to declare a public health international emergency. But China runs various projects in his private office, so he is scared stiff of upsetting them.’
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the WHO shakes hands with Chinese President Xi in January 2020
Mr Hancock added: ‘My sense is he’s terrified of upsetting Beijing. I asked him about unofficial reports from China that there was asymptomatic transmission and he played it down, blaming “translation issues” as if the glaring lack of information coming out of China is all some kind of perfectly innocent communication problem.
‘Sensing I was a bit sceptical, he doubled down, claiming to be “impressed by their transparency”. What?! The Chinese made their comments about asymptomatic transmission three days ago and the WHO still hasn’t checked if they were reported correctly. Unbelievable! Doesn’t anyone there speak Mandarin?
‘My view is that Tedros is trapped by the politics. While the US and UK are the WHO’s biggest funders, we play with a straight bat.’
He added: ‘It’s going to be a serious issue if we have a global disease and the main global health body adopts the Chinese approach to information flow. If asymptomatic transmission is happening, then the odds are that the disease is already out of control.’
The following day, on January 30, 2022, the WHO declared a public health international emergency – but Dr Ghebreyesus insisted there was still no reason to limit trade or travel with China.
MailOnline has asked the WHO to comment.
Critics of the WHO, including then-US president Donald Trump, said repeatedly that Covid-19 could have been contained much better if they had made the same declaration weeks earlier.
The WHO had only declared a public health international emergency five times in its history before the Covid-19 pandemic. Once declared, international cash and experts are pooled to fast-track the international availability of testing, vaccines and medicines.
But in the case of coronavirus, the WHO only took this action more than a month after the first confirmed cases in Wuhan.
Matt Hancock gestures during a virtual press conference during the pandemic
By then, the virus had already killed 170 people in China and spawned 7,000 positive cases. There were also more than 100 confirmed cases around the world including some in the UK.
The Chinese government has been accused of influencing the WHO’s response to the initial Covid outbreak, with The Sunday Times last year claiming that the health body’s independence had already been eroded prior to the spread of the virus in early 2020.
The newspaper claimed the WHO then failed to publicly challenge Chinese misinformation, delayed declaring an international emergency and discouraged governments from placing travel bans on China to protect its economy. It was even suggested that WHO officials agreed a ‘backroom deal’ with the Chinese to water down the inquiry into the origins of Covid-19.
This meant steering scientists away from the theory that the virus escaped from a Wuhan laboratory, rather than from wild animals in a wet market in the city in December 2019.
It is also suggested China has, for some time, been using financial leverage over poorer nations to install its preferred figures into key roles at the WHO as well as other UN-governed bodies.
Dr Ghebreyesus, Ethiopia’s former foreign minister, is alleged to have used his role to make further appointments that were preferable to China, including making Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe a goodwill ambassador.
Between 2000 and 2012, there were around 130 official Chinese finance projects in Zimbabwe, with some totalling hundreds of millions of pounds to build hydroelectric dams and provide agricultural machinery.
In June 2020, Zimbabwe was one of 53 countries to back the new Hong Kong national security law at the United Nations – a crackdown on protesters and free speech and the media by the Chinese government.
A spokesman for the WHO said previously: ‘There have been several independent reviews of the global response to Covid-19, including the work of WHO, and these reviews note the work of the organisation and the early warnings we issued.’
Click here to read Part One of Matt Hancock’s explosive pandemic diaries