Coronavirus: Canadian WHO official ordered to testify at House of Commons committee

OTTAWA — Members of Parliament have issued a mandatory summons to Canadian World Health Organization expert Bruce Aylward, after he turned down repeated invitations to testify to a House of Commons committee.

Aylward is the renowned epidemiologist who led a team of WHO experts to China to study the COVID-19 outbreak in February.

He and the WHO have come under criticism by some in Canada for his report on China’s ability to curb the spread of the viral disease, which has since become a worldwide pandemic.

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Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer in particular has raised concerns about the accuracy of the WHO’s data on COVID-19, and China’s influence on the international organization.

“This committee was tasked unanimously with studying Canada’s response to COVID-19,” Conservative health critic Matt Jeneroux said of the Commons health committee’s mission.

“The WHO has played a key role in that response. The government has been relying on data from the WHO and has been implementing measures here in Canada based on the WHO’s recommendations.”

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The committee has invited Aylward to testify by video conference from Geneva, Switzerland, twice in the last month.

He turned them down and the WHO instead offered to answer written questions.

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NDP health critic Don Davies said while written answers would be helpful, the chance for MPs to ask questions would be far better.

“I would note for the record that Dr. Aylward has done interviews … with media outlets,” Davies said Thursday. “The WHO has been willing to make Dr. Aylward available to answer questions to the media, so I don’t see any principled reason why they would not make Dr. Aylward available to this committee to answer similar questions.

The committee voted unanimously Thursday to issue a mandatory summons, but it can only be enforced once he returns to Canadian soil.

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Aylward’s final report upon his return from China at the end of February included praise for China’s methods and effectiveness in slowing the spread of COVID-19.

He noted that during his time in China there was a steep decrease in new cases in the country, fever clinics were seeing fewer and fewer people showing up for assessments and treatment beds were opening up.

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“This decline in COVID-19 cases across China is real,” he noted in his report.

The accuracy of that data and China’s transparency about the true extend of the epidemic at the time have since been called into question in Canada and abroad.

(C) 2020 The Canadian Press

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