The World Health Organization on Wednesday asked the United States and China for “honest leadership” on the coronavirus pandemic, warning global leaders against politicizing the COVID-19 outbreak “if you don’t want to have many more body bags,” Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
President Donald Trump criticized the international agency’s response to the outbreak Tuesday, saying the WHO “really called, I would say, every aspect of it wrong.” He also threatened to withhold U.S. funding for the WHO.
“At the end of the day, the people belong to all political parties. The focus of all political parties should be to save their people, please do not politicize this virus,” Tedros said in a fiery address Wednesday. He called for unity across the globe, saying the virus will exploit cracks in political parties, religious groups or between different nations to spread even more widely. “If you want to be exploited and if you want to have many more body bags, then you do it. If you don’t want many more body bags, then you refrain from politicizing it,” he said.
Tedros said the focus of all political parties should be to save their people.
Without unity, even more developed nations will face “more trouble and more crisis,” he said. “No need to use COVID to score political points. No need. You have many other ways to prove yourselves.”
Tedros said he doesn’t “care about personal attacks,” addressing the death threats and insults that have been directed at him in recent months.
“I can tell you personal attacks that have been going on for more than two, three months. Abuses, or racist comments, giving me names, black or Negro. I’m proud of being black, proud of being Negro … I don’t care to be honest … even death threats. I don’t give a damn.”
The WHO, the United Nations’ health agency, started sounding the alarm on the outbreak of a new coronavirus in Wuhan, China, in mid-January, designating the now COVID-19 pandemic as a global health emergency on Jan. 30 when there were just 8,200 cases in 18 countries across the world. The coronavirus has since wreaked havoc across the globe, spreading to more than 1.4 million people and killing more than 83,000, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
The WHO’s global emergency declaration on Jan. 30 was nearly a month before Trump tweeted that “The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA” and six weeks before he declared a national emergency on March 13.
Two days earlier, on March 11, WHO officials declared the outbreak a pandemic, when there were just 121,000 global cases.
While WHO officials have praised the U.S. response to the coronavirus, they’ve also been critical of some of Trump’s policies and practices surrounding it. They’ve urged people against calling COVID-19 the “Chinese virus” as Trump has done, saying that it could unintentionally lead to racial profiling.
Trump said Tuesday that he is thinking about withholding funds to the WHO, saying the international agency pushed back on his travel ban from China early in the COVID-19 outbreak. It’s unclear how Trump would do this, however. Congress has already authorized $122 million for the WHO for this fiscal year, and while Trump has proposed $58 million in funding for the agency in fiscal 2021, Congress is unlikely to authorize such a drastic funding cut, especially in the wake of the pandemic.
“For God’s sake, we have lost more than 60,000 citizens of the world. … More than 1 million cases. What are we doing? Is this not enough?” Tedros said. “Even the death of one person is a disaster when we can prevent it.”
Tedros thanked the U.S. for its generous support in the past to fight the HIV pandemic under former President George W. Bush. He called on the U.S., China and the rest of the G-20 nations to come together to fight the pandemic. Even during the Cold War, he said, the U.S. and Russia set aside their differences to work together to fight small pox.
“This is not the one to use for politics. It’s like playing with fire, so more than ever before national unity is important, if we care about our people, if we care about our citizens, please work across party lines, across ideology, across beliefs, across any differences for that matter,” he said. “We need to behave. That’s how we can defeat this virus.”