The United States will halt funding to the World Health Organization (WHO) while a review is conducted, President Donald Trump announced on Tuesday, adding some states in the US could reopen before the end of this month.
Speaking at the White House coronavirus briefing, Mr Trump lambasted the UN body, claiming "so much death has been caused by their mistakes".
The review will assess the organisation’s role in “severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus”, he said.
“Had the WHO done its job . . . the outbreak could have been contained at its source with very little death.
“It would have been so easy to be truthful,” he said of the Geneva-based organisation.
Noting that American taxpayers provide between $400 million and $500 million a year to the body, he said: "In contrast China contributes roughly $40 million and even less."
“We have deep concerns whether America’s generosity has been put to the best use possible.”
He accused the WHO of “putting political correctness ahead of life saving measures”, by opposing the US decision to impose travel restrictions on China at the end of January. “One of the most dangerous and costly decisions from the WHO was its disastrous decision to oppose travel restrictions from China and other nations,” he said.
"Fortunately, I was not convinced and suspended travel from China, saving untold numbers of lives. Thousands and thousands of people would have died. Had other nations likewise suspended travel from China countless more lives would have been saved, instead, look at the rest of the world, look at parts of Europe. "
Mr Trump, who accused the organisation of being “China-centric,” suggested the review could take 90 days.
Asked if he would restore the funds if WHO director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus is removed, he said: “I don’t know the gentleman but I know there has been problems.
“It’s been very,very unfair to the United States. Just as the WTO have been unfair to the United States . . . now they’re coming into line,” he said of the World Trade Organisation.
Mr Trump’s criticism of the WHO is the latest rejection by the president of international agencies and the principle of multilateralism. But he is not the only critic of the WHO, which has faced questions over its relationship with Beijing and its exclusion of Taiwan from the body.
Taipei took important steps to control the virus in its early stages and has donated millions of protective masks to other countries.
Mr Trump also said some states in the United States could be open before the end of April. Rowing back from his earlier suggestion that he had authority to order states to reopen, he said it would be a decision for iindividual governors.
“We’ll open [the country] in beautiful little pieces as it comes along,” he said.
Separately, the Washington Post reported Mr Trump had ordered his name to be printed on millions of cheques that are being sent to Americans as part of the $2.2 trillion package agreed last month. The unprecedented move is expected to delay the delivery of the cheques by several days.
The latest developments come as as tensions between the president and state governors spilled into the open earlier in the day as New York governor Andrew Cuomo said Mr Trump was "spoiling for a fight".
In a highly combative press conference in which the US president repeatedly attacked the media and defended his handling of the coronavirus crisis, Mr Trump asserted that his presidential power was “total”.
“That’s the way it’s gotta be, and the governors know that,” he said.
But despite Mr Trump’s claims of “ultimate authority”, constitutional experts have pointed out only governors can make decisions such as reopening states.
In a series of interviews, Mr Cuomo said Mr Trump’s assertion was “factually wrong”.
“It is infuriating and offensive and frankly ignorant of the facts,” Mr Cuomo said, likening Mr Trump’s press conference to a “comedy skit”.
He later pointed out the “the federal state relationship has been central to our democracy” since the creation of the United States in the late 18th century.
“We don’t have a king in this country. We didn’t want a king. So we have a constitution and we elect a president,” he said.
He insisted, however, that he did not want to engage in a fight with the president. “The president will have no fight with me. I will not engage.”
Earlier in the day, Mr Trump lashed out at the New York governor after he gave a series of media interviews on Tuesday morning. In a tweet, he said that Mr Cuomo had been calling “daily, even hourly, begging for everything, most of which should have been the state’s responsibility”.
He also referred to the film Mutiny on the Bounty, apparently likening state governors to mutineers.
Mr Cuomo, a Democrat and son of former New York governor Mario Cuomo, has seen his national profile rise since the outbreak of the coronavirus. His daily briefings from the state capital of Albany have been broadcast live by national tv channels, rivalling Mr Trump's evening press conferences.