July 10 (UPI) -- Two days after President Donald Trump announced he was pulling the United States from the World Health Organization, the U.N. body's chief pleaded through tears for international unity in the face of the coronavirus, stating the WHO will launch an independent panel to investigate its response to the pandemic.
"How is it difficult for humans to unite and fight a common enemy that is killing people indiscriminately?" asked an emotional WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Thursday during a COVID-19 briefing. "Are we unable to distinguish or identify the common enemy? Can't we understand that the division and the cracks between us are an advantage for the virus?"
Tedros said some 12 million people have been infected with COVID-19 and more than 500,000 lives have been lost to the pandemic since the first infection was diagnosed late last year in China but it is getting worse, "the pandemic is accelerating" with the number of infections having doubled in the last six weeks.
The virus has left no country untouched and has impacted virtually everyone alive but the greatest threat humanity faces is not the virus itself but rather "the lack of leadership and solidarity" at both the global and national levels, he said.
"This is a tragedy that is forcing us to miss many of our friends and lose many lives," he said. "And we cannot defeat this pandemic as a divided world."
Tedros' remarks followed Trump announcing on Tuesday that he has sent formal notice to Congress and the U.N. of the United States' withdrawal from the World Health Organization, which will go into effect in one year's time.
Trump had announced plans to cut ties with the U.N. health body in May, accusing the agency of enabling China to cover up the origins of the coronavirus and its early outbreak of the disease.
The WHO has been criticized over its handling of the outbreak, that it reacted too slowly and failed to call for countries to enact measures, and more recently by more than 230 scientists urging it to recognize the potential for airborne spread of the virus.
Tedros said on Thursday the WHO is launching an independent panel to evaluate its response to the pandemic to be co-chaired by former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark and former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
It will have a deadline to present an interim report in November during the World Health Assembly with further sessions on its findings to be held in January and May of next year.
"This is a time for self-reflection, to look at the world we live in and to find ways to strengthen our collaboration as we work together to save lives and bring the pandemic under control," Tedros said. "Even as we fight this pandemic, we must be readying ourselves for future global outbreaks and the many other challenges of our time."