The World Health Organization has dismissed as “false allegations” a media report that it withheld information about the new coronavirus following pressure from China.
The U.N. agency said in a statement late Saturday that a German magazine’s report about a telephone conversation between WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and Chinese President Xi Jinping on Jan. 21 was “unfounded and untrue.”
Weekly Der Spiegel reported that Xi asked Tedros during the call to hold back information about human-to-human transmission of the virus and delay declaring a pandemic. The magazine quoted Germany’s foreign intelligence agency, BND, which declined to comment Sunday.
Der Spiegel also claimed that the BND concluded up to six weeks of time to fight the outbreak had been lost due to China’s information policy.
The U.N. agency said Tedros and Xi “have never spoken by phone” and added that “such inaccurate reports distract and detract from WHO’s and the world’s efforts to end the COVID-19 pandemic.”
It said that China confirmed human-to-human transmission of the new coronavirus on Jan. 20.
WHO officials issued a statement two days later saying there was evidence of human-to-human transmission in Wuhan, but more investigation was necessary. The global body declared COVID-19 a pandemic on Feb. 11.
U.S. President Donald Trump has been among the strongest critics of WHO’s handling of the pandemic, accusing it of deference to China and ceasing payments to the agency.