The World Health Organization has hit back at President Trump after he threatened to cut US funding over its handling of the coronvirus crisis.
Trump has been locked in a battle of words with the WHO and tried to blame the UN agency for not warning the world sooner about the impending pandemic that originated in China.
The president has come under fire himself from Democrats and other world leaders for downplaying the danger the virus posed to the US at the same time as referring to it as the ‘China virus’.
Yesterday Trump savaged the WHO and branded it ‘China centric’, saying it ‘called it wrong’ and ‘missed the call’.
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President Trump, joined by members of the Coronavirus Task Force, speaking at a briefing at the White House yesterday
World Health Organization director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (left) and Chinese President Xi Jinping shaking hands in Beijing on January 28 to discuss how to curb the spread of coronavirus
World Health Organization criticized for its response to the coronavirus crisis
The World Health Organization has been criticized for putting the world at risk by credulously accepting China’s information about the coronavirus pandemic despite widespread accusations of a cover-up.
INITIAL RESPONSE TO OUTBREAK
As concern about the crisis developing in Wuhan grew in December, the WHO parroted the Chinese government’s line stating there was ‘no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission’.
The United Nations agency then took another week to correct that statement.
EFFUSIVE PRAISE FOR CHINESE OFFICIALS
The World Health Organisation and its leader Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus heaped praise on the Chinese repsonse to the virus even as it spread around the world.
After a meeting in Beijing in January, Dr Tedros said: ‘Its actions actually helped prevent the spread of coronavirus to other countries.’ He said he was ‘very impressed and encouraged by the president’s detailed knowledge of the outbreak.’
ACCEPTANCE OF CHINESE STATISTICS
The WHO has also been criticized for not standing up to the disinformation coming from Beijing, which has been accused of downplaying the seriousness of the outbreak and misreporting its true death toll figures.
In total China has only reported 3,200 coronavirus deaths, despite claims that the real figure is closer to 40,000 in Wuhan alone.
ACCUSATIONS OF RACISM
Dr Tedros has at times called out other countries for their handling of the crisis.
In particular he lamented the ‘level of stigma we are observing’ in reference to the language used by President Trump to describe it as the ‘China virus’.
CRITICISM OF TRUMP’S TRAVEL BAN
On January 31, the Trump administration announced travel restrictions on people coming from China due to the outbreak.
But on February 3, WHO said such bans on travel and trade were not needed.
As the contagion began to spread outside of Wuhan where it originated, the WHO reassured the world that the virus was a regional problem.
Most countries have since adopted the same stringent ‘stay at home’ rules and others have imposed lockdowns restricting citizens’ movements.
REFUSAL TO DECLARE A GLOBAL HEALTH EMERGENCY
In late January, when the virus had already spread to several countries, a WHO emergency committee debated whether to declare COVID-19 a ‘public health emergency of international concern’.
However Dr Tedros declined amid Beijing’s objections and instead traveled to China, before finally making the declaration a week later on January 30.
At the time he said: ‘The Chinese government is to be congratulated for the extraordinary measures it has taken.
‘I left in absolutely no doubt about China’s commitment to transparency.’
Also in late January, Tedros complimented China’s President Xi Jinping for the country’s handling of the virus, as the Chinese leader centralized the response after local officials in Wuhan couldn’t keep the outbreak under control.
He also said his administration would look into whether the US would withdraw its $513m funding.
At a daily press briefing on Tuesday, Trump accused the WHO of mishandling the coronavirus outbreak and said: ‘We’re going to put a hold on money spent to the WHO.
‘They called it wrong, they called it wrong, they missed the call.’
‘They should have known and they probably did know,’ he added, suggesting the WHO was withholding information about the coronavirus.
The president has followed the lead of prominent conservatives in complaining that the WHO has been too friendly to China during the coronavirus crisis.
When asked by reporters whether it was wise to slash funding to the WHO during a time of emergency, the president quickly backtracked and said he was only looking into a possible suspension of funds.
Today Dr Hans Kluge, the WHO’s regional director for Europe, defended the organization.
He said: ‘We are now in an acute phase of the pandemic – now is not the time to cut back on funding.’
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric also rejected Trump’s criticism of the WHO and backed director-general, Dr Tedros, for his ‘tremendous work’.
‘For the Secretary General [Antonio Guterres] it is clear that WHO, under the leadership of Dr Tedros, has done tremendous work on COVID in supporting countries with millions of pieces of equipment being shipped out, on helping countries with training, on providing global guidelines. WHO is showing the strength of the international health system’, he told reporters.
Dujarric added the WHO also recently did ‘tremendous work’ in putting its staff on the frontlines to successfully fight Ebola, an infectious and often fatal disease in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Dr Bruce Aylward, senior adviser to Dr Tedros, also defended the WHO, saying its work with Beijing was important in forming an understanding of the outbreak.
He said: ‘It was absolutely critical in the early part of this outbreak to have full access to everything possible, to get on the ground and work with the Chinese to understand this.
‘This is what we did with every other hard hit country like Spain and had nothing to do with China specifically.’
Earlier on Tuesday, Trump attacked the WHO on his social media page for being ‘China centric’.
He wrote on Twitter: ‘The W.H.O. really blew it. For some reason, funded largely by the United States, yet very China centric. We will be giving that a good look.’
Trump said near the start of his virus briefing yesterday: ‘The WHO, that’s the World Health Organization, receives vast amounts of money from the United States and we pay for a majority, the biggest portion of their money, and they actually criticized and disagreed with my travel ban at the time I did it.
‘And they were wrong. They’ve been wrong about a lot of things.’
‘And they had a lot of information early and they didn’t want to – they seemed to be very China centric,’ he said, changing the point he was trying to make mid-sentence.
It comes as the people of Wuhan were allowed to emerge from their homes on Tuesday for the first time since January 23.
And while the world had looked on at those measures with consternation – as the WHO reassured us the virus was a regional problem – most developed countries have now adopted the same stringent ‘stay at home’ rules.
World Health Organisation (WHO) European director Hans Kluge defended the agency after Trump threatened to cut funding. He is pictured (above) during a joint press conference on the Danish handling of coronavirus last month
WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has been criticized for his response to the coronavirus outbreak
Later in the briefing Trump threatened to cut off the WHO’s supply of money from the United States.
Trump added: ‘We’re going to put a hold on money spent to the WHO. We’re going to put a very powerful hold on it. And we’re going to see.
‘It’s a great thing when it works but when they call every shot wrong that’s not good. They are always on the side of China.’
Later when the president was asked if it was a smart move to cut off funds to the major global health organization during a worldwide pandemic he backed away from his previous threat.
‘I’m not saying I’m going to do it, but I’m going to look at it,’ Trump pledged.
The president was later asked why he thought the WHO was ‘China centric’.
Trump responded: ‘I don’t know, they seem to come down on the side of China.
Trump suggested he might cut the US’s funding that goes toward WHO, calling the United Nations agency ‘very China centric’
‘Don’t close your borders to China, don’t do this, they don’t report what’s really going on, they didn’t see it and yet they were there. They didn’t see what was going on in Wuhan…they must have seen it, but they didn’t report it.’
Trump was following the lead of American conservatives including Florida Sen. Rick Scott who placed blame on WHO for ‘helping Communist China cover up a global pandemic.’
At the same time, Democratic governors, lawmakers and pundits have condemned Trump’s response in combatting the virus, suggesting he did too little, too late.
Today Kluge also warned against lifting strict lockdowns in place across Europe and the US and said it was ‘dangerous’ to think the crisis is slowing down.
He described the current situation on the continent as ‘very concerning’, adding: ‘Now is not the time to relax measures.’
A tweet from the WHO in January pushing out the disinformation fed to it by Beijing about the virus, which it was reticent to declare a pandemic
In a press briefing this morning, Dr Kluge said: ‘To think we are coming close to an end point is a dangerous thing to do.
‘The virus leaves no room for complacency. Relaxing lockdown measures requires careful consideration.’
He added the upcoming Easter weekend was ‘not the time’ to relax restrictions, despite the promise of good weather across much of Europe.
Dr Kluge said: ‘This is not the time to lower our guard. We must soldier on. We are in this together and we will get through this together.’
In comes as promising developments in the pandemic emerged from Wuhan – the Chinese city where the crisis began in December – today as it lifted the lockdown.
People living in the city, home to 11million people, were allowed to travel elsewhere for the first time since it was sealed off on January 23.
Data today showed the number of people with coronavirus symptoms has dropped since the UK’s lockdown started two weeks ago.