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Don’t politicize coronavirus unless you want ‘many more body bags’: WHO director-general

Coronavirus outbreak: WHO chief fiercely defends handling of pandemic after Trump criticism
WATCH: WHO chief fiercely defends handling of pandemic after Trump criticism

The director-general of the World Health Organization, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, warned world leaders to not politicize the response to COVID-19, saying doing so will lead to more deaths.

Tedros made the comments at a WHO press briefing Wednesday in response to a question about recent comments made by U.S. President Donald Trump.

READ MORE: Trump threatens to pull back funding from WHO over agency’s coronavirus response

On Tuesday, Trump said he would put a “very powerful hold” on money sent to the WHO, adding that they “missed the call” on the pandemic.

When asked whether placing a hold on the organization was the right thing to do amid a pandemic minutes later, Trump backtracked and said he was going to “look at” doing it.

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He also criticized the WHO as being too “China-centric.”

Tedros on Wednesday said politicians should refrain from using the virus to score political points.

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“At the end of the day, the people belong to all political parties. The focus of all political parties should be to save their people. Please don’t politicize this virus,” he said.

“If you don’t want many more body bags, then you refrain from politicizing it.”

The WHO has been criticized for its decision not to call COVID-19 a pandemic until March 11, long after many experts suggested it should do so, as well as for its praise of China’s outbreak response.

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Coronavirus outbreak: Trump ‘looking into’ holding up funding for the WHO amid COVID-19 pandemic
Coronavirus outbreak: Trump ‘looking into’ holding up funding for the WHO amid COVID-19 pandemic

Tedros urged countries, including the U.S. and China, to work together to defeat the virus.

“We will have many body bags in front of us if we don’t behave,” he said. “For God’s sake, we have lost more than 60,000 citizens of the world… is this not enough?”

The most recent numbers, compiled by Johns Hopkins University, say there have been more than 83,000 deaths worldwide due to COVID-19, as of Wednesday afternoon.

“I know I didn’t address your question directly,” Tedros told the reporter who had asked him to respond to Trump’s comments. “I don’t think that’s necessary. We shouldn’t waste time pointing fingers. We need time to unite.”

Later in the press conference, Tedros said that he had personally gotten a lot of criticism, as well as racist insults and even death threats.

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“I don’t mind. I prefer to really focus on saving lives.”

He will tolerate personal attacks, he said, but not attacks on racial communities or Africans. “I don’t care because I am a very proud Black person.”

“I don’t care even being called ‘Negro,’” he said, adding that recently, some such racial attacks had come from Taiwan, and he believed the government there had tolerated them.

“I don’t care because what I care is when humanity is insulted, when we don’t care, when we have more than 60,000 body bags.”

with files from Emerald Bensadoun, Global News