Over 320,000 people sign online petition urging United Nations to get WHO chief to resign

People who support the petition accuse WHO of displaying favouritism towards China.

Sumita Thiagarajan | February 07, 2020, 02:02 PM

An online petition has been started in an effort to call for the resignation of the chief of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

The petition started a week ago, by one Osuka Yip on Change.org, has since received over 320,000 online signatures.

Petition creator claims that the coronavirus outbreak was improperly handled by WHO

Yip, who initiated the online petition directed at the United Nations (U.N.), accused Ghebreyesus of underestimating the novel coronavirus outbreak.

The petition said:

"On January 23rd, 2020. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus declines to declare China virus outbreak as a global health emergency. As we all know, the Coronavirus is not treatable at the moment. The number of infected and deaths has risen more than ten times (infected from 800 - close to 10,000) within only 5 days. Part of it is related to Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus under estimated the coronavirus. We strongly think Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus is not fit for his role as WHO Director General. We call for the Immediate Resignation of Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus."

The petition also said the WHO is politically biased:

"A lot of us are really disappointed, we believe WHO is supposed to be political neutral. Without any investigation, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus solely believes on the death and infected numbers that the Chinese government provided with them."

Chief of WHO responds to criticism on Feb. 5, 2020

According to Devex, Ghebreyesus responded on Feb. 5, 2020 to criticism on the handling of the outbreak by China and WHO at a press conference in Geneva, Switzerland.

He responded to a question on whether Chinese authorities had hidden cases and downplayed the seriousness of the outbreak during meetings held in Wuhan in early January.

Ghebreyesus said:

"I cannot say they hid or they didn’t.

[...] Even if China hides it, I don’t think the cases would be prevented from crossing the borders to other countries. So it really defeats the logic."

Ghebreyesus went on to say that if China had been hiding he would have expected a higher number of cases outside of China as many cases would be observed in the rest of the world without WHO's knowledge.

He added that an after-action review may be conducted to see if anything was hidden from WHO.

He said:

“But again, I say, let’s check. Maybe we will have the after action review, and to see if something was hidden or not. Because I cannot say whether there was something hidden or not. I can only use some logic to really understand the situation."

Ghebreyesus's background outside of WHO

According to his CV submitted to WHO, he is currently the Minister of Foreign Affairs for Ethiopia and started this role in 2012, before he joined as chief of WHO in 2017.

Relations between China and Ethiopia are set to grow stronger in 2020, according to Chinese diplomat, Tan Jian, who mentioned this at a press conference in December 2019, Xinhua reported.

Comments on the online petition highlight the tensions between Taiwan and China

The petition also brought up the exclusion of Taiwan from WHO and that Taiwanese technology is more advanced than some countries on the "selected WHO list".

"On the other hand, Taiwan should not be excluded from WHO for any political reasons. Their technologies are far more advanced than some of the countries on the “selected WHO list". Please help the world to gain faith to the UN and WHO again."

This statement is similar to the statement made by Taiwanese president, Tsai Ing-wen, who mentioned in a Facebook post that "WHO should not exclude Taiwan for political reasons".

Other than the petition's description, many comments in support of the online petition mirrored that of the creator of the petition and the Facebook post made by Tsai.

Screenshot from Change.org

Screenshot from Change.org

Screenshot from Change.org

Many of comments highlighted the tension between how Taiwan is viewed by some as an independent country but is seen a province of China, according to Beijing.

Screenshot from Change.org

Screenshot from Change.org

Screenshot from Change.org

Screenshot from Change.org

Screenshot from Change.org

Screenshot from Change.org

According to Reuters, China’s Taiwan Affairs Office said in a statement on Feb. 6 that Taiwan should not “use the virus to plot independence”, and reiterated that the island has faced no problem with cooperating with the WHO.

Timeline of reporting on by Ghebreyesus on the coronavirus

On Jan. 29, 2020, Ghebreyesus highlighted in a Facebook post that he met with the president of China to discuss steps to battle the coronavirus outbreak.

Within two days, on Jan. 31, 2020, Ghebreyesus declared a public health emergency of international concern over the global outbreak of nCoV in a press conference.

He highlighted that he was declaring the outbreak as a public health emergency due to what is happened in other countries.

He ended his Facebook post about the press conference with the following statements:

This is the time for facts, not fear.

This is the time for science, not rumours.

This is the time for solidarity, not stigma.

Top screenshot via Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus/Facebook