The World Health Organization has confirmed a leaked internal email stating that 65 of their headquarters staff in Geneva, Switzerland have caught coronavirus, the Associated Press reports.
While just over half of the confirmed cases are among staff members working from home, a cluster of 32 staff members still working at the organization's headquarters came down with the virus. This in spite of the organization's strict protocols to control and prevent the spread of the virus within their premises.
The email, originating from WHO Assistant Director-General of Business Operations Raul Thomas, wrote that five people who had close contact with each other at headquarters had tested positive for coronavirus. The email also stated that 49 of the 65 cases occurred in the past eight weeks despite Thomas having claimed less than five weeks ago that there have been no cases of the virus among staff at their headquarters.
WHO spokeswoman Farah Dakhlallah confirmed the outbreak, stating that they "have not yet established whether transmission occurred on campus, but are looking into the matter."
Among those who contracted the virus are an infection control specialist who is also part of the WHO's senior management.
The WHO has come under widespread criticism for their handling of the coronavirus pandemic, especially by the Trump administration, who has accused the organization of conducting a sluggish response to the pandemic and corruption for the benefit of China, a country which the WHO has publicly praised despite privately raising serious concerns about their response to the pandemic. Such concerns fueled the President's decision to pull the United States out of the WHO earlier this year.
The leaked email also said that the WHO would be taking further measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 at their headquarters, despite the fact that the organization placed stricter limits on access to their headquarters just last month.
"Finally, members of the workforce are reminded that physical meetings, including gatherings in common areas or in the cafeteria, are strongly discouraged and should only take place where absolutely necessary," the email further warned.
The outbreak at the WHO corresponds with a skyrocketing infection rate in Switzerland which began in early October. Having reported 431 new cases on October 1st, the daily case increase broke 5,000 only three weeks later and has continued to rise since then. Thomas wrote in his email that the outbreak at the WHO is "very much in line with the situation being reported in Geneva and the surrounding areas."