Geneva (AFP) – The World Health Organization on Wednesday pleaded for global unity in fighting the coronavirus, following US President Donald Trump’s stinging attack on its handling of the pandemic.
As the WHO prepares to mark 100 days on Thursday since it was first notified of the outbreak in China, director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus hit back at accusations that it had been too close to Beijing.
The UN’s health agency has faced criticism in the past both for overreacting and for moving too slowly in fighting epidemics, but it has rarely faced as much scrutiny as with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Trump piled in on Tuesday, accusing the WHO having “called it wrong” and months too late, while taking US money but favouring China.
The new coronavirus, which first appeared in China in December, has gone on to kill more than 80,000 people, while more than 1.4 million people have tested positive.
“The WHO really blew it. For some reason, funded largely by the United States, yet very China centric. We will be giving that a good look,” Trump said on Twitter.
“Fortunately I rejected their advice on keeping our borders open to China early on. Why did they give us such a faulty recommendation?”
– Body bags image –
Tedros urged the United States to join with China in combating the disease rather than indulging in a blame game, as he issued a stern defence of the WHO’s management of the pandemic.
“The United States and China should come together and fight this dangerous enemy,” Tedros told a virtual press briefing in Geneva.
“The focus of all political parties should be to save their people. Please don’t politicise this virus.
“If you don’t want many more body bags, then you refrain from politicising it,” the WHO chief argued, before adding later: “It’s like playing with fire.”
Citing the death toll and number of infections, Tedros implored: “For God’s sake… is this not enough?”
– Personal abuse –
The WHO was deemed too alarmist when it faced the H1N1 epidemic in 2009 but five years later it was accused of dragging its feet in declaring an emergency over the Ebola outbreak in west Africa, which killed more than 11,000 people.