Coronavirus: WHO chief urges end to 'politicisation' of virus

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Media captionWorld Health Organization head: ‘Do not politicise this virus’

The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) has urged unity, as the agency comes under continued fire from US President Donald Trump.

Speaking on Wednesday, Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus defended the WHO’s work and called for an end to the politicisation of Covid-19.

Mr Trump said he would consider ending US funding for the UN agency.

He accused the WHO of being “very China-centric” and said they “really blew” their pandemic response.

Dr Tedros has now dismissed the comments, insisting: “We are close to every nation, we are colour-blind.”

After first attacking the WHO the previous day, President Trump renewed his criticism at his news briefing on Wednesday, saying the organisation must “get its priorities right”. He said the US would conduct a study to decide whether it would continue paying contributions,

Also answering questions at the briefing on Wednesday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the administration was “re-evaluating our funding” of the WHO, adding; “Organisations have to work. They have to deliver the outcomes for which they were intended”.

Covid-19 first emerged last December in the Chinese city of Wuhan, which has just ended an 11-week lockdown. An advisor to the WHO chief earlier said their close work with China had been “absolutely essential” in understanding the disease in its early stages.

Mr Trump’s attacks on the WHO come in the context of criticism of his own administration’s handling of the pandemic.

What did the WHO chief say?

“Please, unity at national level, no using Covid or political points,” Dr Tedros said. “Second, honest solidarity at the global level. And honest leadership from the US and China.

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“The most powerful should lead the way and please quarantine Covid politics,” he appealed, in comments seen as a response to Mr Trump, who said on Tuesday the WHO appeared to be “very biased toward China”.

“They called it wrong. They really – they missed the call,” Mr Trump said. “And we’re going to put a hold on money spent to the WHO. We’re going to put a very powerful hold on it, and we’re going to see.”

The US is one of the agency’s largest voluntary funders, with WHO data suggesting they contribute 15% to its overall budget.

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Media captionPresident Trump criticises the WHO for the second evening in a row

On Wednesday Dr Tedros played down that financial threat, saying he believed that US funding would continue.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres had earlier added his voice to the defence of the organisation. He described the outbreak as “unprecedented” and said any assessment of how it was handled should be an issue for the future.

“Now is the time for unity, for the international community to work together in solidarity to stop this virus and its shattering consequences,” he said.

French President Emmanuel Macron also reportedly offered his support to the WHO in a call to Dr Tedros on Wednesday. “He reaffirmed his trust, his support for the institution and refuses to see it locked into a war between China and the USA,” a French presidency official told Reuters news agency.

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Timing of Trump’s threat questioned

By David Willis, BBC North America correspondent

Facing growing criticism over his handling of this crisis, President Trump is now seeking to pin the blame for the spread of the coronavirus on the World Health Organization.

Officials at the UN agency criticised his decision to impose a ban on travellers entering the US from China at the end of January – a move the president has since touted as crucial to controlling the spread of the virus – and with conservative commentators and some Senate Republicans taking to the airwaves to denounce the Geneva-based body, Mr Trump has clearly decided it would be politically expedient to join them.

He sees the WHO as being biased towards China, and believes it was too unquestioning of the early information about Covid-19 that came from the Chinese.

The WHO is not above criticism, particularly for its early assertion that human transmission had not been proven, and its reticence later on to declare a pandemic. But even some of the president’s leading supporters are questioning the timing of his threat to withhold funding for the world’s leading health organisation – coming, as it does, at the height of a global pandemic.

What are the other developments?

  • The latest data, compiled by Johns Hopkins University, suggests there are now almost 1.5 million coronavirus cases and 90,000 related deaths around the world
  • UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson remains in intensive care in London but his condition is said to be improving
  • The total number of fatalities in the UK went above 7,000 – after a record 938 new deaths were confirmed on Wednesday
  • Deaths in Spain have risen for a second consecutive day, after hope earlier in the week that the country’s daily toll was declining


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