WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, as seen in here in March 2020, said that he was self-quarantining after someone he had been in contact with tested positive for Covid-19, but stressed he had no symptoms. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

WHO head did not say he tested positive for Covid-19, only that he was quarantining after a contact tested positive

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Reports in Nigerian media claiming that the World Health Organization’s (WHO) director-general said he had tested positive for Covid-19 were shared in multiple social media posts in the country. However, it is not what Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus actually said, as the article itself goes on to explain: He tweeted that he was identified as a contact person of someone who had tested positive -- not that he had tested positive himself. The WHO also refuted the claim. 

The newspaper published the article (archived here) on November 2, 2020, within hours of Tedros tweeting that he was self-quarantining after someone he had been in contact with tested positive for Covid-19.

“BREAKING: WHO DG contracts COVID-19,” reads the headline of the article, which was shared across The Nation’s social media platforms, including on Facebook and Twitter.

Screenshot taken on November 2, 2020, showing the misleading headline

Other news websites in Nigeria such as WithinNigeria, Oriental Times, and Republican Nigeria republished the same short article, with slightly different headlines. 

While these articles’ headlines all allege that Tedros was infected with Covid-19, they go on to explain that this is based on his tweet from November 1, 2020, where the 55-year-old former Ethiopian minister of health said he was “identified as a contact of someone who has tested positive for #COVID19” and that he was, therefore, self-quarantining in line with WHO protocols.  

Nowhere in Tedros’s tweet thread or subsequent tweets does he say that he himself tested positive, nor does he say if he underwent testing. 

AFP reported that the WHO chief’s announcement came as there is growing anger and exasperation over new coronavirus curbs, as several European nations announced fresh lockdowns and restrictions aimed at halting rising infections and deaths.

Infected person vs contact person

An individual is deemed Covid-19 positive if they are tested and confirmed to have been infected.  Meanwhile, a contact person refers to someone who has been in close contact with someone who has tested positive. 

Although it is possible that Tedros might later announce that he has been tested and found either negative or positive for Covid-19, he has not yet said anything about this as of November 2, 2020. 

The WHO also dismissed the reports.

“Contrary to some incorrect reports, @DrTedros hasn't tested positive for #COVID19,” reads a WHO tweet from November 2, 2020. “He has been identified as a contact of a person who tested positive. Dr Tedros is feeling well and is in self-quarantine as a precautionary measure, in line with WHO protocols.”

Tedros has been at the forefront of the United Nations health agency's efforts to battle the pandemic that has claimed nearly 1.2 million lives and infected more than 46 million people globally since emerging in China late last year.