Tedros Ghebreyesus WHO director-General: World Health Assembly begins today

Representatives of 194 countries will today begin a two-day virtual meeting of the 73rd World Health Assembly, the yearly convening of the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s plenary body—member states.

The teleconferencing, the first by the body, will have China’s back on the rope over Taiwan’s status and the call for an independent enquiry on the COVID-19 pandemic.

The pandemic began in China last December, with virtually all parts of the globe now affected.

As part of its routine, the WHA will approve WHO’s budget, fill vacancies in its executive board, and vote on agenda items that include ending tuberculosis and eradicating polio.

But expected to be contentious are Taiwan’s observer status and the call for an independent enquiry into the pandemic.

China has blocked Taiwan, which Beijing claims is part of China, from attending the meeting since 2016.

This came as relations between Beijing and Taipei worsened following the election of Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party.

A report in the official news agency Xinhua on Sunday said “the US and other countries” were “determined to discuss Taiwan-related proposals for only one purpose: to politicise health issues and achieve their own interests at the expense of kidnapping the the World Health Assembly and hurting global cooperation”.

The Covid-19 pandemic, which first emerged in Wuhan last December, has placed China under more scrutiny as critics call for an investigation into how the virus was able to spread across the world.

It has now infected more than 4.7 million people and killed 315,000.

Allies of China like Indonesia and Russia are among the countries demanding independent investigation.

As criticism over China has increased over the last few months, support of Taiwan, seen as having successfully managed the outbreak, has grown.

Previous bids by Taiwan, which had observer status as a nonvoting observer at the WHO for seven years until 2016, have not gained as much traction, like now.

The United States is leading the campaign to have Taiwan re-admitted as an observer at the WHA.