Countries that ignored the WHO’s advice at the end of January have been less successful in tackling the Covid-19 pandemic, its director warned, as both the organization and world leaders face criticism for mishandling the crisis.
“On January 30 we declared the highest level of global emergency on Covid-19 During that time, as you may remember, there were only 82 cases outside China. No cases in Latin America or Africa, only 10 cases in Europe. No cases in the rest of the world. So the world should have listened to the WHO then carefully,” World Health Organization Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a virtual press briefing on Monday.
He added that the countries which followed the WHO’s advice – by extensively testing their populations and implementing contact-tracing technologies – are “in a better position than others,” but that the WHO only operates in an advisory capacity and cannot mandate governments to follow its recommendations.
However, even as the WHO declared the coronavirus outbreak a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern” on January 30, critics were already arguing that the declaration was too late and didn’t convey the seriousness of the looming pandemic. Moreover, Tedros’ organization assured the public less than two weeks earlier that the virus couldn’t pass from person to person, and even as infections soared in late January and early February, the WHO insisted that travel bans – particularly those affecting China – were “ineffective” and promoted “stigma.”
On the world stage, US President Donald Trump has been one of the loudest critics of the WHO. Trump has accused the organization of “severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of coronavirus” and made the decision to withdraw US funds indefinitely.
Trump’s response has also been criticized, however. Though he implemented a partial China travel ban on January 31, Trump’s opponents say he repeatedly ignored briefings from the intelligence community about the scale of the outbreak, telling the public even in late February that “the coronavirus is very much under control in the USA.” Trump has also been slammed for his government’s delay in rolling out the “millions” of tests promised in early March.
Of course, his is not the only administration criticized for its coronavirus blunders. In the UK, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been flayed in the media for his initial dismissal of the threat. The UK lagged behind its European neighbors in shutting down businesses and amenities, while Johnson himself insisted on shaking hands long after leaders around the world advised against the practice. The British government at one point mulled a “herd immunity” strategy, which would have seen the population exposed en masse to the virus.
Worldwide, more than three million cases of Covid-19 have been recorded, and more than 210,000 people have died.
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