Harvard International Law Journal  |  May 25, 2022

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As the world’s most extensive mass vaccination campaign unfolds and societies begin to return to “normal” after more than a year since the COVID-19 pandemic began, global focus has returned to the pathogen’s origins, missed opportunities to contain its spread, and the responsibility for massive losses of life and livelihood attributable to it. From its early stages, critics have focused on two alleged culprits: the People’s Republic of China
(“PRC”) and the World Health Organization (“WHO”). The former is accused of deliberately or negligently concealing the identification of a novel and deadly pathogen and obstructing early efforts to contain it within the PRC’s territory, and spreading misinformation to divert blame from its failures. The latter is alleged to have failed in its responsibilities by first recommending, then later withdrawing, measures that would have restricted travel to China. According to the WHO, the PRC alerted it to novel pneumonia cases on December 31, 2019. The WHO revised its reports in April to clarify that its own office had received notice about those cases from ProMED, and received information from the PRC government only after two requests.

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