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WHO chief says politicisation of Covid-19 will lead to ‘more body bags’

The World Health Organisation called for unity after facing criticism for its response to the crisis.

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World Health Organisation director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone via AP, file)

World Health Organisation director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone via AP, file)

World Health Organisation director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone via AP, file)

The head of the World Health Organisation (WHO) has called for a “quarantine on politicising Covid-19” after facing criticism over the crisis.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director general, said to politicise the crisis would lead to “more body bags”.

China and the US and G20 countries, should “come together to fight it”, he added.

“Those who have differences should join hands to fight it,” he said.

It comes after the organisation had faced criticism from US President Donald Trump.

During a press briefing at the White House on Tuesday night, Mr Trump accused the WHO of being “wrong about a lot of things”.

Mr Trump also threatened to halt funding to the international public health body and said it had “missed the call” to outline the seriousness of the disease in the early days.

Dr Ghebreyesus said: “We shouldn’t waste time pointing fingers, we need time to unite.”

“Unity is the only option to defeat this virus.”

He added: “Why would I care about being attacked when people are dying?

“We have lost more than 60,000 citizens of the world.”

He told the virtual press briefing that as head of the organisation, he had been subject to death threats and racist abuse over the past two or three months but added: “I don’t give a damn.”

Dr Ghebreyesus added: “Giving me names, ‘black’ or ‘negro’. I am proud of being black, proud of being negro, because that negro is black, black is black, and I am proud.”

He continued: “When the whole black community was insulted, when Africa was insulted, then I don’t tolerate, then I say it is crossing a line. When it’s personal, even death threats, I don’t care.”

WHO officials used the first part of the briefing to outline steps that have been taken to “alleviate suffering and save lives”.

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(PA Graphics)

(PA Graphics)

Press Association Images

(PA Graphics)

Thursday April 9 marks 100 days since the global health body was notified of the first cases of “pneumonia with unknown cause”.

Dr Ghebreyesus told a virtual press briefing: “Tomorrow marks 100 days since WHO was notified of the first cases of ‘pneumonia with unknown cause’ in China.

“It’s incredible to reflect on how dramatically the world has changed, in such a short period of time.”

Dr Ghebreyesus added that the WHO would be conducting an “after action review”.

But he said the organisation had been doing all it could day and night to fight the virus.

“When you’re confronted with a new virus like this one, we do regular assessments, so we will do our assessment, identifying the strengths and the weaknesses.

“This is a tradition in WHO, what we call the ‘after action review’. And WHO wants this more than any organisation because we want to learn from our mistakes, from our strengths and move forward. But for now, the focus should be on fighting this virus.”

He added: “Please don’t politicise this virus.

“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 politicising it.

“My short message is – please quarantine from politicising Covid.”

He continued: “No need to use Covid to score political points, no need, you have many other ways to prove yourselves. It’s like playing with fire. More than ever before, national unity is important.

“When national unity succeeds, global solidarity will be easier to form.”

He recounted when the US and Russia came together during the Cold War to help eradicate smallpox.

“The two powers agreed to fight smallpox together and brought the rest of the world together,” he said.

“Smallpox was eradicated in 10 years from then.

“And now the United States and China should come together and fight this dangerous enemy and the rest of the G20 should come together to fight it.”

PA