‘Shame on each of you’: China, Russia and US clash over pandemic responses

United Nations: China, the United States and Russia have butted heads at the United Nations over responsibility for the pandemic that has interrupted the world, trading allegations about who mishandled and politicised the virus in one of the few real-time exchanges among top officials at this year's COVID-distanced UN General Assembly meeting.

The remarks at the UN Security Council came just after UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres decried the lack of international co-operation in tackling the still "out-of-control" coronavirus.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, seen on a computer monitor delivering a remote address to the UN.Credit:AP

The sharp exchanges, at the end of a virtual meeting on "Post COVID-19 Global Governance," reflected the deep divisions among the three veto-wielding council members that have escalated since the virus first emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, speaking first, stressed the importance of UN-centred multilateralism and alluded to countries – including the US – opting out of making a COVID-19 vaccine a global public good available to people everywhere.

"In such a challenging moment, major countries are even more duty-bound to put the future of humankind first, discard Cold War mentality and ideological bias and come together in the spirit of partnership to tide over the difficulties," Wang said.

And in a jab at US and European Union sanctions including on Russia, Syria and others, he said: "Unilateral sanctions and long-arm jurisdiction needs to be opposed in order to safeguard the authority and sanctity of international law."

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the pandemic and its "common misfortune did not iron out interstate differences, but to the contrary deepened them".

"In a whole number of countries there is a temptation to look abroad for those who are responsible for their own internal problems," he said. "And we see attempts on the part of individual countries to use the current situation in order to move forward their narrow interests of the moment in order to settle the score with the undesirable governments or geopolitical competitors."

That was too much for the United States' UN ambassador, Kelly Craft, who opened her remarks late in the meeting with a blunt rejoinder.

Kelly Craft, the US ambassador to the United Nations, said she was “astonished and disgusted” by the discussion.Credit:AP

"Shame on each of you. I am astonished and disgusted by the content of today's discussion," Craft said. She said other representatives were "squandering this opportunity for political purposes".

"President Trump has made it very clear: We will do whatever is right, even if it's unpopular, because, let me tell you what, this is not a popularity contest," Craft said.

She quoted Trump's speech on Tuesday to the virtual opening of the General Assembly's leaders' meeting in which he said that to chart a better future, "we must hold accountable the nation which unleashed this plague onto the world: China".

"The Chinese Communist Party's decision to hide the origins of this virus, minimise its danger, and suppress scientific co-operation transformed a local epidemic into a global pandemic," Craft said, adding that these actions "prove that not all member states are equally committed to public health, transparency , and their international obligations".

Chinese UN Ambassador Zhang Jun asked for the floor at the end of the meeting and delivered a lengthy retort, saying "China resolutely opposes and rejects the baseless accusations by the United States".

"Abusing the platform of the UN and its Security Council, the US has been spreading political virus and disinformation, and creating confrontation and division," Zhang said.

Zhang said: "The US should understand that its failure in handling COVID-19 is totally its fault."

A sign in central Manchester urges people to act now to prevent the spread of COVID-19 as cases surge.Credit:AP

The surge has brought new restrictions on daily life, the prospect of a grim winter of mounting deaths — and a feeling of deja vu.

"We didn't react quick enough in March," epidemiologist John Edmunds, a member of the government's scientific advisory committee, told the BBC. "I think we haven't learnt from our mistake back then and we're, unfortunately, about to repeat it."

The UK is not alone in seeing a second wave of COVID-19. European countries including France, Spain and the Netherlands are struggling to suppress rising outbreaks while limiting the economic damage.

But Britain's pandemic response has revealed a roster of weaknesses, including unwieldy government structures, a fraying public health system, poor communication by Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government and a reluctance to learn from other countries.

"We have to ask why a country with such reputed health and intelligence institutions has been so incapable of combating the COVID pandemic," Gus O'Donnell, the former head of Britain's civil service, said.

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AP, Reuters

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