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WHO denies accusations of removing critical COVID-19 report under Italy’s pressure

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WHO’s Europe office head said the agency’s procedures had been “overlooked” as he sought to explain WHO’s decision.

The World Health Organisation denied on Thursday that Italian officials pressured it to spike a report into Italy’s coronavirus response but said the U.N. agency should have shared the document with Italy’s government before publishing it.

Dr. Hans Kluge, head of WHO’s Europe office, said the agency’s procedures had been “overlooked,” as he sought to explain WHO’s decision to pull the report from its website a day after it was posted on May 13. By then, it had already cleared all internal WHO approval protocols and been printed.

The mystery over the spiked report became a headache for WHO and a problem for the Italian government. The document noted that Italy hadn’t updated its influenza pandemic preparedness plan since 2006 and that its initial response as virus cases multiplied was “improvised, chaotic and creative.” Prosecutors in Italy’s Bergamo province are investigating whether any criminal liability should be assigned over the vast number of deaths after Italy in late February became the first Western nation with a significant outbreak. They have questioned the reports lead coordinator, who has said an Italian WHO official pressured him to falsify the date of the pandemic plan.

WHO previously said the report was removed because it contained unspecified “factual inaccuracies” and wasn’t reposted because a different review process was adopted instead. Dr. Kluge said on Thursday that the inaccuracies concerned a timeline about the virus in China, which the authors had immediately deleted and had new versions of the report printed without it.

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