Costa Rica seeks unity for COVID fight as WHO assembly looms

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Costa Rica’s president said Friday that COVID-19 can only be defeated if countries shun nationalism and aren’t “selfish,” urging access to diagnostics and treatment tools for everyone as a major meeting of the World Health Organization’s membership looms next week.

Carlos Alvarado joined WHO officials for an online news conference to outline a worldwide “technology repository” for vaccines, medicines and diagnostics, seeking to boost solidarity before the World Health Assembly on Monday and Tuesday — at which rivals China and the United States will share a stage on the coronavirus fight.

“It’s an opportunity for humanity to show the best of what we are made of,” Alvarado said, speaking from Costa Rica Friday, referring to the repository set to be formally launched May 29. “Only together, only with multilateralism, only with that kind of leadership, we can defeat coronavirus — not closing in nationalisms, not being selfish.”

Such calls for solidarity are likely to be tested next week.

Usually the WHO’s biggest annual event, the assembly will be conducted online and is billed as a “de minimis” version focusing only on the outbreak. A handful of world leaders, plus many health ministers, are expected to take part.

The WHO hopes conditions will improve so an assembly with a far broader agenda can be held before year-end.

European Union member states and several other countries have prepared a resolution that aims to boost solidarity, ensure equitable access to treatment tools, and reaffirm commitments to protect human rights that may be strained at a time of broad restrictions on travel, trade and movement — among other things.

One unknown was how much the Trump administration, which has criticized the WHO for being too cozy with China during the outbreak, and others will press to have Taiwan granted observer status over the objections of China. China considers Taiwan part of its territory and points to the widely accepted “One China” policy.

The two-minute speech of U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar is likely to get attention.

The U.S. mission in Geneva this week said the United States believes that Taiwan’s “successful actions in response to COVID-19 would be of significant benefit to the rest of the world,” and merit its inclusion for the online event as an observer.

“Allowing for some sort of meaningful participation would seem to be the minimum that the WHO could do,” U.S. Ambassador Andrew Bremberg said of Taiwan on Friday.

In Beijing on Friday, Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said some countries who were insisting on “Taiwan-related proposals” were doing so only to “politicize health issues.”

“They pursue their own political interests at the cost of ‘kidnapping’ the World Health Assembly and damaging global anti-epidemic cooperation,” Zhao said.