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WHO Chief On COVID-19 Pandemic: 'The Worst Is Yet To Come'

World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus speaks during a news conference this week in Geneva.
Fabrice Coffrini
AFP via Getty Images
World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus speaks during a news conference this week in Geneva.

The head of the World Health Organization is warning that the COVID-19 pandemic is speeding up, and he criticized governments that have failed to establish reliable contact tracing to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Speaking at a briefing in Geneva, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: "We all want this to be over. We all want to get on with our lives. But the hard reality is this is not even close to being over."

"Although many countries have made some progress, globally the pandemic is actually speeding up," he said.

He said the solution is the same as it has been since the early days of the pandemic: "Test, trace, isolate and quarantine."

"If any country is saying contact tracing is difficult, it is a lame excuse," he said.

According to the latest tally from Johns Hopkins University, there have been more than 10 million confirmed coronavirus infections worldwide since the virus was first identified in China late last year, with more than a half-million deaths. The United States alone accounts for more than one-quarter of all confirmed cases with nearly 126,000 deaths.

"The lack of national unity and lack of global solidarity and the divided world ... is actually helping the virus to spread," Tedros said. "The worst is yet to come."

"I'm sorry to say that, but with this kind of environment and conditions we fear the worst," he said.

The head of WHO's emergencies program, Mike Ryan, said there had been "tremendous work" toward a coronavirus vaccine but said there's no guarantee of success.

In the U.S., a spike in coronavirus infections has been driven in part by people unwilling to heed public health guidelines to wear masks and continue social distancing.

Currently, the U.S. leads the world in both coronavirus infections and COVID-19 deaths. Brazil ranks second in the number of infections, followed by Russia, India and the United Kingdom.

President Trump has been highly critical of the WHO, accusing it of helping China cover up the extent of the pandemic within its borders. Earlier this month, the president announced that the U.S. was "terminating" its decades-long relationship with the WHO and would withdraw vital U.S. funding.

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Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.