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WHO chief warns 'worst is yet to come' if coronavirus response is politicized

By Darryl Coote & Don Jacobson
WHO chief warns 'worst is yet to come' if coronavirus response is politicized
Newlyweds pose for wedding photos in Beijing, China, on Sunday without wearing protective face masks, as the government has declared the threat of the COVID-19 outbreak is basically over. Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI | License Photo

April 20 (UPI) -- The leader of the World Health Organization on Monday decried the politicization of the coronavirus pandemic and warned that "the worst was yet to come" if international unity is lost.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, speaking during a daily update from the U.N. organization's headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, said the consequences of losing focus on fighting the pandemic because of political disagreements would be dire.

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"Unity is the only option to defeat this virus," he said. "The worst is yet to come if we don't rush to ensure unity."

U.S. President Donald Trump last week blasted the health organization for being "very China-centric" and moved to cut off funding from the United States.

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He accused the WHO of ignoring early warning signs and heaping praise on China even though it prevented other countries from properly responding to the initial outbreak by not informing the WHO of the virus until Dec. 31.

U.S. Democrats and others around the world, however, accused Trump of trying to deflect the blame for his own administration's slow response to the outbreak, which has claimed nearly 41,000 American lives.

Ghebreyesus didn't specify how he thought the pandemic could worsen, although he has voiced warnings that Africa, with its poor public health infrastructure, could be hit very hard.

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"My focus is saving lives, we don't do politics in the WHO," Ghebreyesus said, adding, "There is a very clear line: a fight between humanity and this virus. That's it. That's what we should use to fight and win."

Worldwide, there were nearly 2.5 million cases and more than 167,000 deaths due to the virus as of Monday afternoon, according to Johns Hopkins University.

The shifting patterns of the pandemic prompted some countries, such as Germany, Denmark and the Czech Republic, to lift restrictions, while others such as Turkey continued to see infections rise.

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Germany, which has the world's fifth-highest number of cases, permitted small stores to reopen as well as car dealerships, bookstores and others. In Poland, which has fewer than 10,000 cases, citizens were again allowed to visit public parks and forests.

Authorities in Spain and France have decided to hold off on lifting restrictions. French officials said they will last for at least three more weeks.

"It is an epidemic unique in modern history and it is not finished," said French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe. "We are making progress against this epidemic. The situation is improving slowly but surely ... but we are not out of the health crisis. To think the epidemic is behind us would be an error."

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New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was also among the leaders announcing eased restrictions Monday.

Ardern said the lifting of restrictions will begin at midnight on April 27, and New Zealand will move from its highest Alert Level 4 to Alert Level 3, which will allow for the reopening of some businesses and schools will prepare to begin holding classes.

In Turkey, however, the outbreak remained on an upward trajectory. Its caseload jumped by 4,700 on Monday while 123 people died, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said.

Those figures brought Turkey's total death toll to 2,140 while the number of confirmed cases rose to nearly 91,000 -- the most in any country outside of Europe and the United States.

Koca found some positives, however, noting that the rate of infection has fallen by more than a third, from 15 percent to 9 percent in the last seven days despite rising numbers of positive tests. There has been a three-fold surge in recoveries, he said.

Scenes from a pandemic: World copes with COVID-19

A health worker with the Israeli national emergency service, Magen David Adam, wears protective gear while taking swabs to test for COVID-19 at a drive-through testing center in East Jerusalem on August 26. Photo by Debbie Hill/UPI | License Photo

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