“My friends, make no mistake: The biggest threat we face now is not the virus itself,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Thursday in a passionate speech in Geneva. “Rather, it is the lack of leadership and solidarity at the global and national level.”
His intervention will be seen as a lightly veiled blow to leaders, including United States President Donald Trump, who has waged a public battle against WHO and has failed to suppress the world’s worst Covid-19 outbreak on his own country.
“This is a tragedy that forces us to miss many of our friends, losing many lives. We cannot overcome this pandemic as a divided world,” said Tedros, his voice trembling as he spoke.
The United States regularly reports record single-day increases in cases and topped three million confirmed infections earlier this week, throwing its first attempts to reopen the economy into chaos.
The situation is almost as bleak in other regions. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro hired Covid-19 after minimizing its severity for months.
“How hard is it for humans to unite to fight a common enemy that is killing people indiscriminately?” Tedros asked during his request, made during a WHO meeting. “Are we unable to distinguish or identify the common enemy? Can’t we understand that the divisions or cracks between us really are the advantage of the virus?”
He urged a gathering of global powers, telling attendees: “Covid-19 is a test of global solidarity and global leadership.”
The withdrawal, which will take effect next July, has been criticized by bipartisan lawmakers, medical associations, defense organizations and allies abroad. Presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden promised on Tuesday to reverse the decision “on (his) first day” if elected.
Tedros himself has provoked the wrath of the President of the United States, who has accused the organization of being too focused on China and of not containing the pandemic in its early days.
But leaders of virtually every other major nation, including Germany, France, and the United Kingdom, have backed the agency during the crisis.
And on Thursday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the pandemic has exposed the dangers of “fact-denying populism” around the world. “We have seen lies and disinformation, and that is not a way to combat the pandemic,” he told the European Parliament in Brussels.