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World should have heeded our warning on coronavirus: WHO chief

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UN agency chief says it advised nations to take strongest measures but not all heeded advice

GENEVA: The director-general of the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Monday that the agency had sounded the highest level of alarm over the coronavirus early on, but lamented that not all countries had heeded its advice.

Mr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus pointed out that WHO warned the Covid-19 outbreak constituted a "Public Health Emergency of International Concern" on Jan 30, when there were no deaths and only 82 cases registered outside China.

"The world should have listened to WHO then, carefully," he told a virtual press briefing.

The organisation has faced scathing criticism from US President Donald Trump, who earlier this month suspended Washington's funding after accusing WHO of downplaying the seriousness of the outbreak and kowtowing to China, where the coronavirus first surfaced late last year.

Mr Trump has provided no evidence to support his claims.

Dr Tedros insisted the UN health agency had provided sound advice from the beginning "based on the best science and evidence".

But he stressed that "we do not have any mandate to force countries... to take our advice".

When the WHO announced on Jan 30 that the coronavirus represented "the highest level of emergency... every country could have triggered all its public health measures," Dr Tedros pointed out.

He said: "We advised the whole world to implement a comprehensive public health approach, and we said find, test, isolate, and do contact tracing.

"You can check for yourselves: Countries who followed that are in a better position than others. This is fact.

"It is up to the countries to reject or accept. Each country takes its own responsibility."

The pandemic has claimed more than 210,000 lives and infected nearly three million people.

The United States has the highest number of deaths at more than 56,000, out of close to one million registered cases.

The Washington Post reported on Monday that Mr Trump was warned about the virus repeatedly in January and February.

The warnings - more than a dozen included in classified briefings known as the President's Daily Brief - came during a time the president was mostly downplaying the threat of a Covid-19 pandemic.

The Post, citing unnamed current and former US officials, said the warnings were contained in the daily classified summary of the most important global issues and security threats.


For weeks, the Daily Briefs traced the spread of the virus, said that China was suppressing information about its lethality and ease of transmission, and mentioned the frightful political and economic consequences, the Post said.

The president, who, officials told the Post, often does not read the briefings and bristles at having to listen to oral summaries, failed to mobilise for a major pandemic.

Mr Trump did restrict travel between the US and China in late January, but he spent most of the following month downplaying the threat.

He did not declare a national emergency over the pandemic until March 13.

The US recorded 1,303 more deaths in 24 hours, according to figures reported late on Monday by Johns Hopkins University, with confirmed cases nearing one million.

The country now has an overall death toll of 56,144, with 987,022 infections. - AFP