UN chief says lack of world leadership “allowed the virus to spread”

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Friday that world leaders bear some of the blame for the devastating impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

“The world was not able to come together to face COVID-19 in an articulated coordinated way,” Guterres told CBS News partner network BBC News. “Each country went with its own policy in different countries with different perspectives, different strategies, and this has allowed the virus to spread.”

Asked if he specifically blamed the ongoing tension between the United States and China for leaving the world without the necessary coordination, Guterre said it was “obvious that we lack the leadership that can only be possible if the key countries in the world, the key powers in the world, are able to come together.”

“I think there is a dysfunction,” said the veteran diplomat. “I think leadership and power are not associated. There is leadership, they [the U.S. and China] are of course powers. We have not been able yet to combine in the world power and leadership in a way that would move the whole of the international community to solve the dramatic problems.”

The U.N. chief talked about the “devastating impact on economies, societies and especially the most vulnerable people.”

Asked about criticism from U.S. President Donald Trump that the U.N.’s World Health Organization (WHO) had failed to sound the alarm early enough about the crisis, and Mr. Trump’s decision to withhold U.S. funding for the agency, he said the WHO “needs to be supported.”

“I believe it is essential to keep maximum resources as possible at WHO, because in the present situation, providing support, especially support to the developing countries,” he said. “Today my main concern is in the developing world.”

But while defending the WHO, Guterres also said that, post-pandemic, “we need to look seriously at the international community, at how this pandemic emerged and how it spread so keenly, and learn our lessons and in the future not to make the same mistakes.”

The U.N. has engaged all of its agencies on the pandemic, working to alleviate hunger amid warnings of “biblical” famines, for children’s education, the jobless around the world, and to prevent gender-based violence exacerbated by lockdown measures.

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