The World Health Organization (WHO) is being accused of hiding a "damning" report that underscored the disastrous response by Italian officials in dealing with the novel coronavirus crisis. Over 60,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the Mediterranean nation and Italy is on track to claim the highest number of fatalities in all of Europe.
According to The Guardian, the study was initially conducted in May and intended to prevent deaths across the globe by outlining the mistakes made by officials in Italy. Titled "An Unprecedented Challenge: Italy's First Response to COVID-19," the document lambasted Italy's pandemic plan, noting that guidelines had not been updated since 2006 and the initial response from the hard-hit nation was "improvised, chaotic, and creative." The paper was published on the WHO's website for just 24 hours before being taken down.
It has been alleged that the driving force behind burying the report was Ranieri Guerra, the WHO's assistant director general for strategic initiatives. He is currently serving on Italy's COVID-19 task force and was also the director general for preventive health in the Italian health ministry between 2014 and 2017 -- meaning it was his responsibility to have updated his country's pandemic plan.
However, it now appears as if the WHO is not just hiding the paper, but also actively trying to silence the data it contained. Prosecutors based in the northern regions of Italy had hoped that one of the report's authors, Francesco Zambon, could answer questions for a potential case against the government and its negligence during the crisis.
However, while Zambon was personally willing to testify in front of Italian authorities on the issue of the state's mismanagement, the WHO asked that he not talk to authorities.
"When I received the first summons I reported it to the WHO's legal office and soon after they responded saying I couldn't go as I was protected by immunity, despite the fact that I wanted to go as I had something to say," Zambon explained. When the scientist initially resisted staying silent, Guerra reportedly threatened to terminate him.
Moreover, leaked emails appear to suggest that the supposedly impartial international agency was conversing with officials in Italy about how to keep the paper's allegations under wraps, especially as Italy had just made a large donation to the agency.
It's important "not to forget" that "[Italy has] just given [the WHO] $10 million as a voluntary contribution on the basis of trust and as an acknowledgment of what we have done so far … after six years with nothing," Guerra wrote.
The WHO has since responded to the allegations of impropriety, stating it was "currently working with the Italian government to clear up the issue."
Italy has also denied involvement with the accusations of a cover-up.