WHO hits back at Trump for ‘politicising’ coronavirus pandemic

US president threatens to stop funding the global health agency, accusing it of being ‘China-centric’

Donald Trump at  a signing ceremony for the $2.2 trillion coronavirus aid bill at the White House last month. Photograph: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

Donald Trump at a signing ceremony for the $2.2 trillion coronavirus aid bill at the White House last month. Photograph: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

 

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has hit back at criticism from US president Donald Trump, after he threatened to stop funding the agency over its handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Trump said he was looking into putting “a hold on money sent to the WHO”, accusing the UN agency of being “very China-centric”.

“They called it wrong,” he said, referring to coronavirus that has claimed tens of thousands of lives across the world. “They didn’t see it, how do you not see it?” he said at a press conference at the White House. “They didn’t see it. They didn’t report it. If they did see it, they must have seen it, but they didn’t report.”

Noting that the US pays “the biggest portion” of funding to the health body, he highlighted the fact that the organisation criticised his decision to ban flights from China in January. 

“They actually criticised and disagreed with my travel ban,” he said. “They seem to be very China-centric. We have to look into that.”

He later appeared to reverse course somewhat by stating that no final decision had been made.

Asked about Mr Trump’s comments at a press briefing in Geneva, Switzerland, on Wednesday, WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus replied: “Please don’t politicise this virus. The focus of all political parties should be to save their people...If you don’t want many more body bags, then you refrain from politicising it.”

Multilateral agencies

Mr Trump’s threat to withhold money from the WHO, a global agency that was established by the United Nations in the late 1940s, is the latest attempt by the president to recast the US’s relationship with multilateral agencies.

Yet Mr Trump is not the only critic of the WHO, which has faced questions over its relationship with Beijing and its exclusion of Taiwan from the agency.  

Taiwan, which took important steps to control the virus in its early stages, has donated millions of protective masks to other countries. The assistant director general of WHO, Bruce Aylward, appeared to hang up during an interview with a Hong Kong media outlet last week when he was asked a question about Taiwan.

The US contributed some $550 million (€506m) last year to the Geneva-based body, which has a budget of approximately $6 billion (€5.5bn).

Tensions between the US and WHO flared as the number of deaths from coronavirus in the US approached 14,000. Almost 420,000 people have contracted the virus in the US, compared to almost 150,000 cases in Spain and more than 130,000 cases in Italy.

New York reported 779 new deaths from the virus – its highest death toll in a single day. However, New York governor Andrew Cuomo noted that the number of patients being hospitalised was falling. “If we continue doing what we’re doing, then we believe the curve will continue to flatten. It’s not a time to get complacent,” he said.

Increased testing

Other areas of the US continued to see a spike in cases. In the region surrounding Washington DC – Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia itself – the number of cases surged to 10,000, although some of the rise was perceived to be a result of increased testing provisions.

In Florida, governor Ron DeSantis, who resisted introducing strict social distancing measures until last week, announced that the Miami Beach Convention Center would be transformed into a treatment centre for coronavirus patients. More than 15,000 coronavirus cases have been reported in the state.

Tweeting on Wednesday, Mr Trump reiterated his view that the US economy would open “sooner than later” despite warning that America was facing a “very tough week”.

“Our Economy will BOOM, perhaps like never before!!!” he tweeted.

Meanwhile, members of Congress were deep in discussions about a top-up to the record $2.2 trillion coronavirus package signed into law by Mr Trump last month.

The White House is seeking an extra $250 billion in loans for small businesses, but Democrats are demanding certain conditions, including an increase in funding for hospitals and food stamps for low-income Americans.

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