The insistence coincided with reports from Washington President Donald Trump would temporarily ban immigration to the United States because of the “Invisible Enemy”—the coronavirus—with angry Americans taking to the streets to demand an end to crippling lockdowns.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Monday there were no secrets at the UN agency after being blasted by the United States for allegedly downplaying the initial COVID-19 outbreak in China.
“We have been warning from day one that this is a devil that everyone should fight,” Tedros told a virtual briefing in Geneva.
In just four months, the virus has turned the world upside down, confining half the planet indoors and killing nearly 170,000 and infecting some 2.4 million on its march through virtually every country.
Drastic measures never before seen in peacetime have shredded the global economy, resulting in the extraordinary spectacle of oil prices turning negative as demand evaporates.
World leaders are agonizing over the right moment to loosen restrictions, terrified of a second wave but aware their citizens need to work and live amid growing signs of social tension.
The WHO said there were 15 staff from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the US health protection agency, detailed specifically to work with the organization on its COVID-19 response.
The US State Department has said the WHO was too late in sounding the alarm over COVID-19 and was overly deferential to China.
It questioned why it did not pursue a lead from Taiwan flagged up on Dec. 31 about reports of atypical pneumonia in Wuhan
Debate has raged over the significance of Taiwan’s email, which informed the WHO of the reports from Wuhan, and of at least 7 patients being isolated – something that would not be necessary for a non-infectious disease.
The United States said it was “deeply disturbed that Taiwan’s information was withheld from the global health community, as reflected in the WHO’s Jan. 14, 2020 statement that there was no indication of human-to-human transmission”.
But Tedros insisted that the WHO was already aware of reports emanating from Wuhan — and said Taiwan’s email was only seeking further information.
“One thing that has to be clear is the first email was not from Taiwan. Many other countries were already asking for clarification. The first report came from Wuhan,” said Tedros.
WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan said the email made no reference to anything beyond what had already been reported in news media.
“Clusters of atypical pneumonia are not uncommon. There are millions of cases of atypical pneumonia around the world in any given year,” he explained.
Ryan said that the WHO tweeted the existence of the event in Wuhan on January 4, and on January 5 provided “detailed information on the epidemic” which all countries could access.
Tedros said: “Don’t use this virus as an opportunity to fight against each other or score political points. It’s like playing with fire. It’s the political problem that may fuel further this pandemic.”.
Hundreds took part in a “Patriots Rally” in Pennsylvania, one waving a banner proclaiming “Give me liberty or give me death.”
But isolated protests are also springing up elsewhere with hundreds defying social distancing rules in Vladikavkaz, in Russia’s Northern Caucasus, to demonstrate against the lockdown and economic hardship.
In hard-hit Europe, several countries are cautiously creeping out from confinement measures, buoyed by mounting signs the worst of the virus may be behind them.
Chancellor Angela Merkel warned Germany was “still a long way from being out of the woods,” as she allowed smaller shops from florists to fashion stores to reopen.
There were also encouraging signs in other major European countries such as Italy, France and Britain, although authorities warned citizens against letting their guard down.
Ghana became the first African country to lift its coronavirus restrictions, sparking a mixed reaction on streets in Accra teeming with citizens after a three-week lockdown.
“It is a huge reprieve. We have a listening government,” hawker Jemima Adwoa Anim told AFP.
‘Nobody wants to buy’
The fallout from the coronavirus has sparked fears of a second Great Depression with millions around the world losing their jobs as economies grind to a halt.
A devastating supply glut resulted in oil producers effectively paying others to take crude oil off their hands, as a barrel of US benchmark West Texas Intermediate for May delivery closed at -$37.63.
Futures prices rebounded back above zero in Asian trade Tuesday, but the historic moves sent shockwaves through global markets, sending the Dow Jones Index sharply lower and Asian markets into the red at the opening bell.
“It’s a contract for something that nobody wants to buy,” said Matt Smith of ClipperData, as oil storage facilities are full and demand has plunged due to fast-shrinking economic activity.
The virus has sent the aviation sector into a tailspin with cash-strapped Virgin Australia announcing Tuesday it had entered voluntary administration — the largest airline so far to collapse.
British tycoon Richard Branson has warned his part-owned airline Virgin Atlantic will also go under without government financial aid.
But despite the virus, people around the world are finding imaginative ways to pierce the gloom.
Police in Madrid are blaring their car sirens to celebrate birthdays of people stuck in their apartments.
And in Paris, Carla Bianchi, an actress of Italian origin, sings for her neighbours every night from her window, dedicating her songs to caregivers.
“It’s true that often Italian songs that are like serenades to be sung below the window work well,” she said.
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