The World Health Organisation (WHO) has backed calls for an independent inquiry into its handling of the pandemic as China pledged $2bn (€1.83bn) for efforts to contain the coronavirus in developing countries and the US accused the body of presiding over a costly failure.
Speaking at the World Health Assembly, the decision-making body of the WHO, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director general, said he welcomed a proposal by more than 120 countries -tabled by the EU and Australia but not supported by China - for a "stepwise process of impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation" of its response to the pandemic.
Dr Tedros said he would launch "an independent evaluation at the earliest appropriate moment".
But Alex Azar, the US Secretary of Health and Human Services, told the assembly that the pandemic had "spun out of control" in great part due to a costly "failure" by the WHO.
"There was a failure by this organisation to obtain the information that the world needed, and that failure cost many lives," he said.
The Assembly usually meets in Geneva, but this year's meeting is being held virtually because of the virus pandemic.
An early report into the WHO's handling of the crisis by its independent oversight body said the organisation had "demonstrated leadership" and that its performance should be reviewed but not during the "heat of the response".
The report also said that the WHO would need an estimated $1.7bn (€1.56bn) to the end of the year, leaving it with a funding gap of $1.3bn.
Xi Jinping, the Chinese president, told the assembly by videolink he would back a "comprehensive review" of the pandemic after it had been brought under control.
Answering critics who said the country covered up the outbreak when it first emerged in Wuhan at the end of last year, Mr Xi insisted his country had acted with "openness, transparency and responsibility", providing information to the WHO and relevant countries in a "timely fashion".
He also tried to smooth over criticism by announcing $2bn (€1.87bn) to support virus response efforts, calling for continued research into the source of the virus, pledging to make vaccines globally available when possible and encouraging sharing best practices.
It is unclear whether the Chinese funding would be channelled directly to the WHO.
In his address to the assembly, Dr Tedros answered critics who said the organisation had been slow to respond at the beginning of the outbreak.
"WHO sounded the alarm early, and we sounded it often.
"We notified countries, issued guidance for health workers within 10 days, and declared a global health emergency - our highest level of alert - on the [30th] of January. At the time, there were less than 100 cases and no deaths outside China." (© Daily Telegraph, London)