WHO insists it sounded coronavirus alarm from the start

The World Health Organization (WHO) insisted Monday that it sounded the alarm on the novel coronavirus right from the very start and had hidden nothing from Washington about the deadly pandemic.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said there were no secrets at the UN agency after facing scathing criticism from Washington, which has accused the organization of initially downplaying the 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.

The virus, which emerged late last year in the Chinese city of Wuhan, has so far infected more than 2.4 million people globally and killed more than 165,000, with nearly two thirds of the victims in Europe, according to an AFP tally.

Tedros said the presence of embedded US government secondees working at the WHO headquarters in Geneva meant there was nothing being concealed from Washington.

The WHO said that since January 1 there were 15 staff from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the US national health protection agency, detailed specifically to work with the organisation on its COVID-19 response.

"Having CDC staff means there is nothing hidden from the US, from day one. Because these are Americans working with us. It just comes naturally and they tell what they are doing," said Tedros.

"WHO is open. We don't hide anything. Not only for CDC, them sending messages, or others -- we want all countries to get the same message immediately because that helps countries to prepare well and to prepare quickly.

Tedros also urged leaders not to exploit the pandemic for their own political capital.

"Don't use this virus as an opportunity to fight against each other or score political points," he said.

"It's like playing with fire. It's the political problem that may fuel further this pandemic."