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UN head says support for WHO crucial

By ZHAO HUANXIN in Washington, CHEN WEIHUA in Brussels and PAN MENGQI in Beijing | China Daily Global | Updated: 2020-04-13 10:23

Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus welcomes UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres prior an update on the situation regarding the COVID-19 (previously named novel coronavirus) at the World Health Organization (WHO) headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, Feb 24, 2020. [Photo/Agencies]

Guterres calls for unity in global efforts to stop virus and its'shattering consequences'

The head of the United Nations has called for support for the World Health Organization a day after US President Donald Trump claimed the UN agency got "every aspect" of the coronavirus pandemic wrong and threatened to withhold funding.

"It is my belief that the World Health Organization must be supported, as it is absolutely critical to the world's efforts to win the war against COVID-19," UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Wednesday.

Guterres said the "unprecedented virus" requires an unprecedented response, and it is possible that the same facts have had different readings by different entities.

"Once we have finally turned the page on this epidemic, there must be a time to look back fully to understand how such a disease emerged and spread its devastation so quickly across the globe, and how all those involved reacted to the crisis," Guterres said.

"But now is not that time. 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.

The UN head's comments followed Trump's criticism of the international agency on Tuesday. Trump criticized the WHO's response to COVID-19 and threatened to freeze US funding for it.

At a news conference on Thursday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said that since the novel coronavirus pneumonia outbreak started, the WHO has been actively performing its duties and taking an objective, scientific and impartial position under the leadership of Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

It has played a vital role in assisting countries to respond to the pandemic and promoting international anti-epidemic cooperation, which has been widely recognized and highly appreciated by the international community, Zhao said.

"China will, as always, firmly support the WHO's efforts and back its leadership in global anti-epidemic cooperation. What the international community needs most at present is confidence, concerted efforts and a united response to fight the pandemic," Zhao added.

The global total of COVID-19 cases exceeded 1.5 million on Thursday, with 89,915 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University. The US led the world with a total of 432,554 cases. It also reported nearly 2,000 new deaths for a second day in a row.

Commenting on different countries' differing responses to the widespread disease, Tedros said on Wednesday, "Unity is the only option to defeat this virus."

He warned that nations will have "more body bags" if there are cracks at the national and global levels that allow the novel coronavirus to spread further.

"Please quarantine politicizing COVID. If we want to win, we shouldn't waste time pointing fingers," he said, adding that "the US and China should come together and fight this dangerous enemy".

Trump's comments on Tuesday have been viewed as him playing the blame game, after the number of cases and deaths in the US climbed dramatically and public disapproval of his handling of the coronavirus crisis has grown.

Tedros dismissed Trump's comment that the WHO is "China-centric", saying the organization is close to every nation and is "color blind".

Bruce Aylward, senior adviser to Tedros, defended the WHO's relationship with China at another news briefing on Wednesday. He said its work with China was important to understand the outbreak.

"It was absolutely critical in the early part of this outbreak to have full access to everything possible, to get on the ground and work with the Chinese to understand this," said Aylward, who led a WHO-China Joint Mission in China in February.

In a videoconference call with Tedros on Wednesday, French President Emmanuel Macron reaffirmed his belief "that the WHO is key" to responding to the coronavirus crisis.

Chairperson of the African Union Commission Moussa Mahamat said on social media on Wednesday that the AU fully supports the WHO and Tedros, while saying that countries should focus on collectively fighting the coronavirus as a united global community.

In a statement released on Wednesday, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who is also the current chairperson of the African Union, said Africa appreciates the exceptional leadership of Tedros since the very earliest stages of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Otiato Opali in Nairobi contributed to this story.

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