World leaders must “behave” if they want to avoid a wave of new fatalities related to the coronavirus pandemic, the World Health Organization’s top official said in response to President Trump’s criticism of his performance.
“We will have many body bags in front of us if we don’t behave,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters Wednesday when asked to address Trump’s specific criticisms of the WHO. “When there are cracks at national level and global level, that’s when the virus succeeds. For God’s sake, we have lost more than 60,000 citizens of the world.”
WHO officials have taken criticism, especially from American leaders, for giving credence to false reports about the novel coronavirus in the early days of the outbreak. Those rebukes culminated in Trump threatening to freeze U.S. aid to the international organization, which he described as “China-centric,” but Tedros dismissed that criticism.
“I know I didn’t address your question specifically,” he said, noting that a reporter had asked for responses to the president’s particular criticisms. “I don’t think that’s necessary. We shouldn’t waste time pointing fingers. We need time to unite.”
Senate Republicans have taken aim at the WHO in recent days, echoing Trump’s criticisms and pledging to withhold American funding regardless of the president’s eventual decision regarding an aid freeze.
“The Chinese Communist Party used the WHO to mislead the world,” Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, said Tuesday. “The organization’s leadership is either complicit or dangerously incompetent.”
Tedros, addressing U.S.-China tensions, recalled that the former Soviet Union and the United States coordinated against smallpox at the height of the Cold War.
“And now, the United States and China should come together and fight this dangerous enemy,” the WHO chief said. “Unity is the only option to defeat this virus. Lack of unity, please prepare: If you don’t believe in unity and don’t do unity, please prepare for the worst to come. The worst is yet to come if we don’t rush to ensure the unity.”
Trump faulted the WHO for critiquing his decision to restrict travel from China, while Taiwanese authorities have faulted the WHO for failing to relay to the world Taiwan’s late-December assessment that the virus could be passed between humans. The WHO tweeted that “Chinese authorities have found no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission” on Jan. 14.
Tedros, who maintained that the “WHO has been doing all it can since the beginning,” promised to conduct an internal review of its decisions throughout the pandemic.