Coronavirus: UN chief Antonio Guterres criticises global lack of unity

Addressing government heads and health specialists he called for ‘an end to the hubris’

 United Nations chief Antonio Guterres said the World Health Organisation was “irreplaceable". AFP
 United Nations chief Antonio Guterres said the World Health Organisation was “irreplaceable". AFP

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has hit out at countries that ignored expert advice on countering Covid-19, as he warned the disease could be “even more devastating” as it spreads into the developing world.

Addressing the World Health Assembly (WHA), an annual gathering of the UN’s 194 members states normally takes place in Geneva but this year is held online, Mr Guterres said the pandemic “must be a wake-up call” as he called “for an end to the hubris”.

"We have seen some solidarity, but very little unity in our response to Covid-19. Different countries have followed different, sometimes contradictory strategies and we are all paying a heavy price.

"Many countries have ignored the recommendations of the World Health Organisation (WHO). As a result, the virus has spread across the world."

Amid criticism of the WHO’s response to the crisis, he said the body was “irreplaceable”.

There are fears that US-China tensions could derail the strong action needed to address the COVID-19 crisis. - AFP/World Health Organisation 
There are fears that US-China tensions could derail the strong action needed to address the COVID-19 crisis. - AFP/World Health Organisation 

The WHA this year will focus almost exclusively on Covid-19, which has killed more than 315,000 people globally and infected around 4.7 million.

The WHO is under fire from some quarters for failing to live up to its responsibilities.

Australia has called for an inquiry into the origins of the disease and the health body’s global response.

US President Donald Trump has been deeply critical of the WHO and has withdrawn US funding.

He has accused it of covering for China, where the outbreak is almost universally believed to have originated.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he welcomed an investigation into the response of “all actors” in good faith.

He said the “WHO is committed to transparency, accountability and continuous improvement”.

"I will initiate an independent evaluation at the earliest appropriate moment to review experience gained and lessons learned and to make recommendations to improve national and global pandemic preparedness and response," he said at the start of the World Health Assembly.

But US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused the WHO director-general of lacking independence for coming “under pressure” not to invite Taiwan, which is claimed by China.

Mr Pompeo said the move “deprives the Assembly of Taiwan’s renowned scientific expertise on pandemic disease, and further damages the WHO’s credibility and effectiveness at a time when the world needs it the most”.

He “condemned” Taiwan’s exclusion and said the director-general “had every legal power and precedent to include Taiwan”.

China has previously opposed calls for a review of the origin and spread of the coronavirus but President Xi Jinping of China said he supported a "comprehensive evaluation" of the global response when the virus was brought under control.

"All along we have acted with openness and transparency and responsibility,” he said. Mr Xi offered to share a vaccine as soon as one was available, as well as $2 billion in aid to the poorest countries over the next two years.

Published: May 18, 2020 07:26 PM

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