Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the World Health Organization, urged leaders not to politicize the planet’s response to the coronavirus just a day after President Donald Trump threatened to withhold funding to the agency and said WHO had “called it wrong” as cases of COVID-19 grew up in nations around the globe.
“The focus of all political parties should be to save their people. Please don’t politicize this virus,” Tedros said Wednesday during a virtual press conference from Geneva. “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.”
The comments came after Trump, speaking to a question about WHO’s initial response as the pandemic began to spread from China, said he was frustrated with the agency and planned to put a “very powerful hold” on American funding to the agency.
“I”m not saying I’m going to do it,” the president, who was frustrated with WHO and its handling of China’s response to the virus, said at a briefing Tuesday, “but we’ll have a look.”
He continued those attacks Wednesday.
“They actually criticized and disagreed with my travel ban at the time I did it, and they were wrong,” Trump said at a daily briefing. “They’ve been wrong about a lot of things.”
WHO has an annual budget of about $6.3 billion funded by the United Nations’ member countries. The U.S. contributed about $553 million to the agency in 2019.
The president’s attack was largely seen as an attempt to place blame for the spread of the virus — which has infected more than 432,000 Americans and killed at least 14,800 — on a physical target amid growing personal and financial tolls throughout the country. Critics have accused Trump himself of failing to act swiftly to rein in the spread of the disease, claims he rejected on Tuesday.
“The cases really didn’t build up for a while, but you have to understand, I’m a cheerleader for this country,” Trump said when asked if he had downplayed the initial spread of the virus. “I don’t want to create havoc and shock and everything else. But ultimately, when I was saying that, I’m also closing it down. I obviously was concerned about it.”
The questioning came after The New York Times reported several memos written by top White House adviser Peter Navarro were circulated around the administration as early as Jan. 29 warning the virus could cost the American economy trillions of dollars and potentially infect millions.
Trump did restrict travel from China on Jan. 31 (a decision WHO initially criticized) and blocked most travel from Europe on March 11. He hasn’t yet issued any nationwide stay-at-home orders, a move that’s drawn criticism from his own medical advisers.
Tedros on Wednesday didn’t mention Trump by name, but took direct aim the president’s threats, saying there were still “many unknowns and we don’t know how” the virus “will behave in the future.”
“If we care about our people, if we care about our citizens, please work across party lines, across ideology, across beliefs,” he said. “That’s how we can defeat that virus. ... The worst is yet to come if we don’t rush to ensure the unity.”
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