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The World Health Organization is being accused of ignoring its own guidelines put in place after the SARS outbreak in the early 2000s, which call for the organization to investigate reports of a potential "public health emergency" -- like SARS, a kind of coronavirus -- from the start to prevent any chance of a pandemic.
Republicans on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, who have been vocal critics of the WHO's handling for weeks, say that the Chinese Communist Party also ignored rules requiring governments to report any information of a new SARS-like virus to the WHO within 24 hours.
In 2005 following the SARS outbreak, the WHO had updated the International Health Regulations (IHR), which were first adopted by the Health Assembly in 1969, acknowledging that the organization has “a central and historic responsibility” to manage “the control of the international spread of disease.”
The revised regulations included updates to global health security, including “epidemic alert and response,” “global public health response to natural occurrence,” “accidental release or deliberate use of biological and chemical agents or radio nuclear material that affect health,” and “severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), with a view to responding to the need to ensure global public health.”
According to Articles 6 and 7 of the revised IHR, members are obligated to provide the organization with all relevant public health information, including lab results, "within 24 hours of assessment ... of all events which may constitute a public health emergency of international concern." The document later cites SARS as an example.
But reports suggest that Chinese health officials knew the novel coronavirus rapidly spreading through Wuhan was caused by a virus that was 87 percent similar to the 2003 SARS coronavirus by Dec. 27. By Dec. 30, reports suggest that labs in Wuhan reported multiple patients had tested positive for an unknown SARS coronavirus.
“In 2003, the Chinese Communist Party did not properly alert the world to SARS, causing a pandemic. In response, the world came together to implement new rules, including strict reporting requirements to the WHO so future pandemics would be averted,” House Foreign Affairs Ranking Member Michael McCaul, R-Texas, said in a statement.
“But when faced with an impending pandemic once again in late 2019, the CCP ignored those rules allowing COVID-19 to spread, killing hundreds of thousands of people and devastating the global economy,” McCaul continued. “Even more troubling, the organization meant to implement these rules, the WHO, blindly followed the CCP in delaying necessary action to protect people around the globe.”
Sources told Fox News that China, at the latest, under regulations should have reported the existence of the novel coronavirus to the WHO by Dec. 31. Instead, China reportedly initially told the WHO that the virus was pneumonia.
By Jan. 2, the Wuhan Institute of Virology completed a mapping of the genetic sequence of the SARS-like coronavirus responsible for the outbreak in Wuhan. The sequence was not reported to the WHO for 10 days, allegedly in violation of both Articles 6 and 7 of the IHR.
Meanwhile, the WHO at the time allegedly received warnings from Taiwan—which is not a member state of the organization and has not had “observer status” since 2017—suggesting individuals in China were becoming ill via human-to-human transmission of a virus.
Under International Health Regulations’ Articles 9 and 10, the WHO is supposed to investigate reports -- which sources say would include unofficial reports from sources, member states, nonmember states, or media reports -- that would suggest evidence of a public health risk.
But despite the warning from Taiwan, the WHO did not investigate the potential human-to-human transmission of the novel virus at the time, instead relying on China's team.
Six days after the warning from Taiwan, the WHO released a statement claiming that “based on the preliminary information from the Chinese investigative team, no evidence of significant human-to-human transmission and no health care worker infections have been reported.”
Taiwanese officials reportedly received an email from the WHO, instead, saying that their inquiry “would not be posted on the organization’s international website for the benefit of member countries.”
Taiwan’s vice president also accused the WHO of ignoring their warning, saying: “While the WHO’s IHR internal website provides a platform for all countries to share information on epidemics and their response, none of the information shared by our country’s CDC was put up there.”
“When you look at what our committee has discovered so far, it seems pretty clear that the WHO under Tedros’ leadership ignored its own legally binding regulations by ignoring warnings from Taiwan and from their own collaborating center,” Foreign Affairs GOP committee spokesperson Leslie Shedd told Fox News. “But if the WHO has information that they did comply with their mandate, then we welcome that and ask them to share it with the world.”
She added: “Unfortunately, their silence on this is deafening.”
WHO has denied specifically receiving an alert from Taiwan about the possibility of human-to-human transmission of COVID-19.
Taiwan counters they specifically mentioned "atypical pneumonia" in their warning – as well as local reports downplaying the possibility of SARS – and "public health professionals could discern from this wording that there was a real possibility of human-to-human transmission of the disease."
"However, because at the time there were as yet no cases of the disease in Taiwan, we could not state directly and conclusively that there had been human-to-human transmission," Taiwan's CDC said.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has defended the organization's early actions, saying during a press conference last week: "We didn’t waste any time. We didn’t want to waste any time."
He also said that the organization gave world leaders enough time to respond accordingly to the novel coronavirus. Tedros said that the organization declared a global health emergency when there were only 82 deaths from the virus outside of China, "meaning, the world had enough time to intervene.”
A spokesperson for the WHO did not respond to Fox News’ request for comment for this report.
The WHO website states: "WHO will also be in a position to seek verification from States concerning reports received from sources other than the States themselves. The State, through the National IHR Focal Point is required to cooperate in the verification process."
Meanwhile, according to data and a study released by the Southampton University, and reviewed by Republicans on the foreign affairs committee, had China acted sooner and followed the WHO's regulations, it could have significantly slowed the spread of COVID-19 around the globe.
“We must hold the CCP and Director General Tedros accountable to prevent another pandemic from China to reach our shores,” McCaul said.
McCaul, last month, called for the resignation of WHO's director -- something several U.S. lawmakers had done-- calling it “appropriate” as he is “the person conspiring with the Chinese Communist Party.”
Also last month, McCaul, along with 16 GOP members of the committee, penned a letter to President Trump saying that they "have lost faith in Director-General Tedros’ ability to lead the World Health Organization," and urged any further funding from the U.S. be conditioned on Tedros' resignation.
The president, last month, announced that the United States would immediately halt funding for the health organization, saying it had put “political correctness over lifesaving measures,” saying that the U.S. would undertake a 60- to 90-day investigation into why the “China-centric” WHO had caused “so much death” by “severely mismanaging and covering up” the coronavirus spread.
Tedros vehemently defended his agency amid criticism from Trump at the time, saying: “If you don’t want many more body bags you refrain from politicizing it — please quarantine politicizing COVID.”
The United States was the WHO's largest single donor, and the State Department had previously planned to provide the agency $893 million in the current two-year funding period. Trump said the United States contributes roughly $400 million to $500 million per year to WHO, while China offers only about $40 million.
Recently, the Trump administration has circulated a draft proposal that would bring Taiwan to the table in observer status at the WHO, in an effort to push back against China. Further, the administration’s national security team is even considering the creation of a new global health organization – one that would have more U.S. influence – among a range of options.
As of Wednesday, there were more than 3.6 million positive cases of COVID-19 around the globe and more than 257,900 deaths.
Fox News' Gillian Turner contributed to this report.