Coronavirus: UN chief Antonio Guterres criticises global lack of unity

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

(FILES) In this file photo taken on February 8, 2020 United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks during a press conference at the African Union headquarters during the 33rd African Union (AU) Summit, in Addis Ababa. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called Friday for an "all-out effort" to end the "tsunami of hate and xenophobia" sparked by the novel coronavirus pandemic, without naming specific countries. / AFP / MICHAEL TEWELDE

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”.

This combination created of nine video grabs taken on May 18, 2020 from the website of the World Health Organization shows (top to bottom, LtoR) WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Swiss President Simonetta Sommaruga, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Chinese President Xi Jinping, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron, South Korean President Moon Jae-in, Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa delivering their speech via video link at the opening of the World Health Assembly virtual meeting from the WHO headquarters in Geneva, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, caused by the novel coronavirus. The World Health Organization on May 18 kicked off its first ever virtual assembly, but fears abound that US-China tensions could derail the strong action needed to address the COVID-19 crisis. - RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION" - NO MARKETING - NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
 / AFP / World Health Organization / - / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION" - NO MARKETING - NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS

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.

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