The chief of the World Health Organization (WHO) warned leaders not to politicise the coronavirus pandemic when the world needs to work together.
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus was reacting to comments made by US President Donald Trump who said he was thinking about cutting funding to the international organisation leading the fight against COVID-19.
Trump accused the WHO of being too “China centric”.
At a press conference in Geneva, Dr Tedros issued a plea against politicising the pandemic, equating it to playing with fire.
“Please don’t politicise this virus. It exploits the differences you have at the national level. If you want to be exploited and if you want to have many more body bags, then you do it,” Dr Tedros said in a defensive response to questions about the US president’s comments.
“If you don’t want many more body bags, then you refrain from politicising it.”
He asked the United States and China to work together and asked for people to “quarantine” politicising the virus.
“We shouldn’t waste time pointing fingers. We need time to unite,” Dr Tedros added.
He went on to accuse Taiwan of being behind a racist campaign against him, citing racial slurs and death threats.
Taiwan’s president issued a statement on Facebook protesting the accusation and inviting the director general to visit Taiwan.
Taiwan is not a member of the UN or WHO due to China’s insistence that it is a part of its territory.
Dr Tedros spent the beginning of the press conference defending the WHO’s track record on coronavirus, listing several areas in which the organisation has worked to combat the virus, including building country capacity to prepare and respond, publishing guidance, engaging global doctors, and informing the public about the virus.
“We have been doing everything we can. We will continue to do everything day and night like we have been doing… we want to learn from our mistakes and move forward. But for now, the focus should be on fighting this virus.”
The US funded nearly one-fifth of the WHO’s budget from 2018 to 2019.
UN secretary-general António Guterres commended WHO’s work in the fight against ebola, also calling for unity.
“It is my belief that the World Health Organization must be supported, as it is absolutely critical to the world’s efforts to win the war against COVID-19,” Guterres said.
This story has been updated to reflect the statement of Taiwan.