• The World Health Organization held a media briefing to update the public on the COVID-19 outbreak. Streamed live on Monday, 20 April.
  • The WHO's top official said that political division was slowing the fight against coronavirus.

Political division is fueling the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), at a briefing Monday.

The virus, he said, exploits personal differences, especially those between ideologies or political parties. “This virus is dangerous. It exploits cracks between us."

The comments came nearly a week after the US said it would temporarily halt funding to the WHO pending an investigation into the agency's response to the coronavirus outbreak.

A lack of unity can distract leaders and the public, said the Director-General, leading to loss of life. “These are real people. And that's what we're losing. Real people who could be saved but who might be dying because of own weaknesses of our society.”

He added: “I resist to keep quiet and not say what I see is wrong.”

At the briefing, the Director-General referenced his own childhood in Ethiopia, including the loss of his brother at a young age, in order to highlight the tragic impact disease can have on the the world's most vulnerable. “I know war. I know poverty,” he said.

As a result, he said, he knew first-hand that behind each case statistic was an individual.

“When you say 100,000, for many people, it could be just figures, numbers, and it may not mean anything. But what I am saying is let's believe that behind those are 100,000 faces - the mother of somebody, the father of somebody, the daughter of somebody and the son of somebody. These are real people. Let's not turn them into numbers."

What is the World Economic Forum doing about the coronavirus outbreak?

Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic requires global cooperation among governments, international organizations and the business community, which is at the centre of the World Economic Forum’s mission as the International Organization for Public-Private Cooperation.

Since its launch on 11 March, the Forum’s COVID Action Platform has brought together 1,667 stakeholders from 1,106 businesses and organizations to mitigate the risk and impact of the unprecedented global health emergency that is COVID-19.

The platform is created with the support of the World Health Organization and is open to all businesses and industry groups, as well as other stakeholders, aiming to integrate and inform joint action.

As an organization, the Forum has a track record of supporting efforts to contain epidemics. In 2017, at our Annual Meeting, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) was launched – bringing together experts from government, business, health, academia and civil society to accelerate the development of vaccines. CEPI is currently supporting the race to develop a vaccine against this strand of the coronavirus.

The Director-General said he was stressing the human cost of the disease for those who may not have faced tragedy.

“Maybe they had an easy ride in life, so they don't understand what this means. Maybe they don't understand what poverty means. Maybe they don't understand what war means. That's why I'm being emotional.”

Political squabbles, he said, will lead to more deaths and "this virus will stay longer with us to kill more people and we will lose more precious lives”.

The Director-General stressed that the WHO had warned that the extent of the coronavirus outbreak would take many countries by surprise, including more developed and wealthy nations.

The virus is poised to wreak further damage unless stronger action is taken.

“We need national unity and whoever has whatever ideology, whether that person is blocked from left or right or center, they should work together to fight this virus to save these real people.”

"Without national unity and global solidarity...trust us: the worst is yet ahead of us", he said.