DONALD TRUMP has halted US funding to the World Health Organization over its handling of the coronavirus pandemic as the country registered over 600,000 cases of Covid-19 and 28,300 deaths.
Trump, who has reacted angrily to criticism of his administration’s response to the worst epidemic in a century, has become increasingly hostile towards the WHO.
The Geneva-based organisation had promoted China’s “disinformation” about the virus that likely led to a wider outbreak than otherwise would have occurred, Trump said.
“The WHO failed in this basic duty and must be held accountable,” Trump told a White House news conference on Tuesday (15).
According to him, the WHO prevented transparency over the COVID-19 outbreak when it appeared in China, costing other countries crucial time to prepare, delaying decisions to stop international travel.
“Had the WHO done its job to get medical experts into China to objectively assess the situation on the ground and to call out China’s lack of transparency, the outbreak could have been contained at its source with very little death,” said Trump.
“The WHO’s attack on travel restrictions put political correctness above life-saving measures.”
He said there were “deep concerns whether America’s generosity has been put to the best use possible,” he said, adding that Washington would now “discuss what we do with all that money that goes to the WHO”.
Nearly two million people globally have been infected and more than 124,000 have died since the disease emerged in China late last year, according to a Reuters tally.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said it was not the time to reduce resources for the WHO.
“Now is the time for unity and for the international community to work together in solidarity to stop this virus and its shattering consequences,” he said in a statement.
The US is the biggest overall donor to the WHO, contributing more than $400 million in 2019, roughly 15 per cent of its budget.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he sympathised with Trump’s criticisms of the WHO, especially its “unfathomable” support of re-opening China’s “wet markets”, where freshly slaughtered animals are sold and where the coronavirus first appeared in the city of Wuhan late last year.
“But that said, the WHO also as an organisation does a lot of important work including here in our region in the Pacific and we work closely with them,” Morrison told an Australian radio station on Wednesday.
“We are not going to throw the baby out of with the bathwater here, but they are also not immune from criticism and immune from doing things better.”
More than 2,200 died in the United States alone on Tuesday, a record toll according to a Reuters tally, even as the country debated how to reopen its economy.
New York City, the U.S. city hardest hit by the pandemic, revised its death toll sharply up to more than 10,000 on Tuesday, to include victims presumed to have perished from the lung disease but never tested.
American health care advocacy group Protect Our Care said Trump’s WHO funding withdrawal was “a transparent attempt by President Trump to distract from his history downplaying the severity of the coronavirus crisis and his administration’s failure to prepare our nation,”
“To be sure, the World Health Organization is not without fault but it is beyond irresponsible to cut its funding at the height of a global pandemic,” said Leslie Dach, the chair of Protect Our Care.
‘NOT SEEING THE PEAK YET’
After weeks of lockdowns in several European countries, the WHO said the number of new cases were tailing off in some areas, such as Italy and Spain, but outbreaks were growing in Britain and Turkey.
“The overall world outbreak – 90 per cent of cases are coming from Europe and the United States of America. So we are certainly not seeing the peak yet,” WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris told a briefing in Geneva.
India extended a lockdown on its 1.3 billion people until at least May 3 and Prime Minister Narendra Modi said economic sacrifices were needed to save lives as the number of coronavirus cases exceeded 10,000.
New cases in mainland China dropped to 46, compared to 89 a day earlier, Chinese health officials reported on Wednesday, with one further death. Most cases were from overseas travellers returning from Russia.
Trump, who has declared he will decide when to lift U.S. lockdowns, suggested some Democratic state governors were “mutineers” after New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said he would refuse any order that risked reigniting the outbreak.
Trump’s top infectious disease adviser, Dr Anthony Fauci, said the president’s May 1 target for restarting the economy was “overly optimistic”.
Facing a tough reelection in November, the Republican president is eager to get the world’s biggest economy back on its feet as quickly as possible.
But a threat on Monday to invoke his “total” power to force state governors to follow his directives on reopening prompted an outcry.
“We don’t have King Trump, we have President Trump,” New York governor Andrew Cuomo said on CNN.
Equally combative, the president responded on Twitter by likening skeptical governors to rebellious sailors in the movie “Mutiny on the Bounty”.
At his press conference, however, Trump backpedalled, clarifying that governors would take the lead on when and how to ease the restrictions paralysing the US economy.
“I’m not going to put any pressure on any governor to open,” he said.
The president indicated that numerous states with less dense populations could open “very, very soon, sooner than the end of the month,” while places like New York could take longer.
“We’ll open it up in beautiful little pieces,” Trump said.
The president had been expected to unveil a new task force on Tuesday for managing the national reopening. That did not happen.
Instead, Trump announced he would be talking to large groups of business leaders, Congress members and all 50 governors in conference calls this week.
“Our country has to get open and it will get open,” he said.
For weeks, Trump has veered between supporting a sudden, large-scale reopening and a cautious, case-by-case relaxation of mitigation measures.
In the end, Trump has bowed — often reluctantly — to advice from medical experts who argue that relaxing social distancing and allowing people back to work prematurely would spark a coronavirus second wave.
Reflecting the sense of instability, economic powerhouses California and New York, both led by Democrats, are developing their own reopening plans, insisting that Trump will not set the pace.
California governor Gavin Newsom, who has joined forces with Oregon and Washington states to coordinate the transition, said he would not announce any concrete timing for at least another two weeks.
“We can’t get ahead of ourselves,” he said. “I don’t want to make a political decision that puts people’s lives at risk and puts the economy at even more risk.”
Talks are underway for eventual reopening of California restaurants, schools and businesses but many social distancing procedures are likely to be retained, including wider spacing at meal times and wearing of masks, he said.
“Normal, it will not be,” he warned.
No ‘King’ Trump
On Monday, Trump had insisted that he can override state governors to determine the reopening schedule.
“When somebody’s the president of the United States, the authority is total,” he said.
His claim — disputed by constitutional experts — took long-running confusion over who is in charge to a new height.
Having previously argued vociferously that he is not responsible for managing the crisis, Trump was now accused of seeking monarchical powers to impose his will.
“We ran away from having a king, and George Washington was president, not King Washington. So the president doesn’t have total authority,” Cuomo told CNN.
“If he ordered me to reopen in a way that would endanger the public health of the people of my state, I wouldn’t do it,” he said.
Trump fired back on Twitter, comparing the situation to “Mutiny on the Bounty.”
“A good old fashioned mutiny every now and then is an exciting and invigorating thing to watch, especially when the mutineers need so much from the Captain,” he tweeted.