The director of the World Health Organization on Wednesday defended its handling of the coronavirus threat after president Trump and a number of U.S. lawmakers accused the group of demonstrating bias towards China, where the deadly outbreak originated.
“Please don’t politicize this virus,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus urged at a briefing in Geneva. “The focus of all political parties should be to save their people.”
“If you don’t want many more body bags, then you refrain from politicizing it,” he said, urging the U.S. and China to come together to fight “this dangerous enemy.”
“The unity of your country will be very important to defeat this dangerous virus,” Tedros continued. “Without unity, we assure you even any country that may have a better system will be in more trouble.”
Tedros nevertheless expressed optimism that the U.S. will continue to provide funding, the WHO’s largest single source of financial support.
“My belief is that it will continue that way,” the WHO director said. “The U.S. will continue to contribute its share. Other countries will do the same.”
The WHO chief’s pleas come after President Trump said the organization “blew it” with its “very China centric” early response to the outbreak and threatened to cut its funding, saying Tuesday “we will giving that a good look.”
“They called it wrong and if you look back over the years even, they are very much, everything seems to be very biased towards China,” Trump said Tuesday. “That’s not right.”
The WHO recommended in January that countries keep borders and trade open even as it dubbed the coronavirus outbreak a global emergency. In March, the WHO upgraded the outbreak to pandemic status.
Several Republican senators have taken aim at the WHO for its response to the pandemic, accusing the group of being too willing to accept China’s narrative surrounding the pandemic. Senators Rick Scott and Martha McSally accused the WHO director of aiding China in its efforts to conceal its underreporting of coronavirus case numbers.
Additionally, WHO assistant director-general Dr. Bruce Aylward appeared to dodge a question about whether the WHO will reconsider granting membership to Taiwan, which China claims as a territory. Taiwan, which has reported under 400 cases of the infection and only two deaths, has been widely praised for its containment of the coronavirus.