US leader has threatened to withhold funding for the World Health Organization over accusations that it is too close to China and mismanaged the early response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
US President Donald Trump has threatened to withhold funding for the World Health Organization (WHO), the UN body responsible for the global response to the Covid-19 pandemic, joining a chorus of criticism against the agency, which could distract from his own handling of the crisis.
The Republican leader is angry with the organisation for what he believes is excessive deference to China and mismanagement during the early stages of the coronavirus outbreak.
“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. Fortunately I rejected their advice on keeping our borders open to China early on. Why did they give us such a faulty recommendation?” Trump wrote on Twitter on Tuesday evening.
He later announced a funding cut before backtracking shortly after, though continuing to voice criticism.
The US is the top voluntary contributor to the WHO with Congress sending $123m in funds for the WHO’s core budget for the year 2020, but as far back February 10, Trump was looking to reduce that amount down to $58m. When special projects are included the total rises significantly; in 2017, for example, the total voluntary US contribution was just over $400m.
Many in the US have called for an investigation into the WHO’s dealings with China, accusing the body of covering up for Beijing’s mishandling of the initial coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan province.
A Wall Street Journal editorial highlighted how the WHO did not take into account early evidence of human to human transmission of the virus published by Taiwan on December 31.
Instead on January 14, the WHO Twitter account said: “Preliminary investigations conducted by the Chinese authorities have found no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission of the novel #coronavirus.”
Preliminary investigations conducted by the Chinese authorities have found no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission of the novel #coronavirus (2019-nCoV) identified in #Wuhan, #China🇨🇳. pic.twitter.com/Fnl5P877VG— World Health Organization (WHO) (@WHO) January 14, 2020
Despite these criticisms, many leaders have condemned Trump’s threat, which came at a time when the world is in the full throes of pandemic.
Typifying the sentiment was South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who on Twitter wrote:
“The most potent weapon against #COVID19 and its devastating health, social & economic impact is international cooperation & solidarity, which is why the exceptional leadership displayed daily by @WHO & @DrTedros (Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus) during an unprecedented global public health crisis is incalculable”
Trump’s record at home
Irrespective of the criticism of the WHO, Trump faces anger for his own role in handling the epidemic in the US.
The country now has the highest number of cases in the world, with 469,000, and the second highest number of deaths from the disease at almost 17,000, at the time of publication.
In the initial stages of the crisis, Trump was seemingly dismissive of its dangers, comparing it to other common viral infections, such as the flu.
“So last year 37,000 Americans died from the common Flu. It averages between 27,000 and 70,000 per year. Nothing is shut down, life & the economy go on. At this moment there are 546 confirmed cases of CoronaVirus, with 22 deaths. Think about that!” Trump wrote just a month ago on March 9.
So last year 37,000 Americans died from the common Flu. It averages between 27,000 and 70,000 per year. Nothing is shut down, life & the economy go on. At this moment there are 546 confirmed cases of CoronaVirus, with 22 deaths. Think about that!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 9, 2020
The president’s approval rating has dipped as Americans question his handling of the crisis. Doubts over his reelection prospects are further compounded by unprecedented levels of unemployment stemming from the crisis, with numbers hitting 16 million new jobless claims in the first three weeks since the lockdown was declared.
The de facto Democrat nominee, Joe Biden, has attacked Trump over his record in these past few months.
“The coronavirus is not Donald Trump's fault, but the slow and chaotic response to it is. He's the commander in chief — it's time he steps up, takes responsibility, and does his job,” he said.