As Trump attacks, WHO warns against politicizing coronavirus if you don’t want ‘many more body bags’

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A TV grab taken from a video released by the World Health Organization (WHO) shows WHO Chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus attending a virtual news briefing on COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) from the WHO headquarters in Geneva on April 6, 2020.

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The World Health Organization asked the United States and China for “honest leadership” on the coronavirus pandemic Wednesday, 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 the WHO’s funding from the U.S.

“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 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 the focus of all political parties should be to save their people. 

“Without unity, we assure you even any country that may have a better system will be in trouble and more crisis. That’s our message. Unity at the national level,” 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 he’s experienced.

“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.”

“When the whole Black community was insulted, when Africa was insulted, then I don’t tolerate, then I say people are crossing the line,” he said.

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 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 82,000, 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 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 year 2021, Congress is unlikely to authorize such a drastic funding cut, especially in the wake of the pandemic.

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