LONDON — A British medical journal Tuesday rebutted claims by President Donald Trump that the World Health Organization had consistently ignored reports of the virus spreading in China in early December, including ones featured in its publication.
In a letter published Monday, Trump excoriated WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, saying the organization had “failed to independently investigate credible reports that conflicted directly with the Chinese government’s official accounts.”
“This statement is factually incorrect,” The Lancet, a general medical journal, responded in a statement. “The Lancet published no report in December, 2019, referring to a virus or outbreak in Wuhan or anywhere else in China.”
The journal said the first reports it published were on Jan. 24, adding that the scientists and physicians who led one of the studies were all from Chinese institutions.
“They worked with us to quickly make information about this new epidemic outbreak and the disease it caused fully and freely available to an international audience,” the statement said.
A second Lancet paper, also published on Jan. 24, described the first scientific evidence confirming person-to-person transmission of the new virus, according to the journal. This report included scientists and physicians from Hong Kong and mainland China, it added.
The Lancet said allegations leveled against WHO in Trump’s letter were “serious and damaging” to efforts to strengthen international cooperation to control the pandemic.
“It is essential that any review of the global response is based on a factually accurate account of what took place in December and January,” the publication added.
Trump’s letter came as tensions ran high at the WHO’s general assembly Monday, with calls for an independent inquiry of the health body’s handling of the crisis and further criticism from the U.S. delegation.
Some observers say the WHO was far too credulous in believing Beijing's reassurances, which it then amplified uncritically to the wider world.
In his letter, Trump also accused WHO of "missteps" and threatened to make the freeze on U.S. funding for the organization permanent.
Trump's letter, which was posted to his Twitter account and cane during the World Health Assembly, accused the organization of an "alarming lack of independence from the People's Republic of China."