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An online petition calling for the resignation of the embattled leader of the World Health Organization neared 1 million signatures early Sunday.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Ethiopian politician who has led the United Nations-backed health body as director-general since July 2017, has been under fire over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 100,000 people worldwide and sickened more than 1.7 million.
Specifically, Tedros has been accused of allowing China to underreport the impact of the virus in Wuhan, the city believed to have been the point of origin for the deadly outbreak. The allegedly lowballed numbers from China have affected other nations’ ability to adequately respond to the outbreak, critics have asserted.
“We strongly think Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus is not fit for his role as WHO Director General,” the petition with 853,000 signatures, posted on the Change.org website, states, calling for the official’s immediate resignation.
“A lot of us are really disappointed,” the petition continues. “We believe WHO is supposed to be politically neutral. Without any investigation, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus solely believes on [sic] the death and infected numbers that the Chinese government provided with them.”
"We believe WHO is supposed to be politically neutral."
U.S. lawmakers have been among Tedros’ harshest critics. On Thursday, a group of Republicans from the House Oversight Committee wrote to Tedros, demanding that he disclose the precise nature of his relationship with Chinese officials.
“Throughout the crisis, the WHO has shied away from placing any blame on the Chinese government, which is in essence the Communist Party of China,” the Republicans wrote. “You, as leader of the WHO, even went so far as to praise the Chinese government’s ‘transparency’ during the crisis, when, in fact, the regime has consistently lied to the world by underreporting their actual infection and death statistics.”
The GOP letter cited a January message on Twitter in which the WHO said Chinese authorities found "no clear evidence" of human-to-human transmission of the virus, also known as COVID-19.
On Wednesday, during an appearance on Fox News’ “The Story” with Martha MacCallum, White House economic adviser Peter Navarro referred to Tedros as one of the Chinese government’s “proxies” as Beijing looks to gain influence over various U.N.-run agencies.
Navarro told MacCallum that President Trump was seriously considering cutting funding to the WHO after the president accused the agency of botching the handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
"It all tracks to China's view of the world and how they want to control different types of international organizations, even as they don't play by the international rules," he said. "So it's going to be up to the president to look at this."
On Wednesday, Tedros lashed out at President Trump, accusing the U.S. leader of politicizing the pandemic after Trump threatened to cut off U.S. funding to the WHO.
“If you don’t want many more body bags, you refrain from politicizing it – please quarantine politicizing COVID,” Tedros told reporters at a news conference.
On Friday, Tedros warned of a “deadly resurgence” of the virus if nations ease up too quickly on mitigation measures such as stay-at-home orders and social distancing.
“WHO wants to see restrictions lifted as much as anyone,” Tedros said, according to CNBC. “At the same time, lifting restrictions too quickly could lead to a deadly resurgence. The way down can be as dangerous as the way up if not managed properly.”
Tedros later said some countries with strong health care systems seemed “actually surprised by this pandemic.”
“It shows that any system could have gaps,” he said, “and we should have the humility to see to what extent our system is prepared, where are the gaps and how we can improve it for the future.”