Donald Trump has come under heavy criticism for “putting countless lives at risk” when he announced the United States is freezing payments to the World Health Organization (WHO) over its handling of the Coronavirus pandemic.
The US president said on Tuesday that funding would be on hold for 60 to 90 days pending a review of the WHO’s warnings about the Coronavirus and China.
He accused the global body of “severely mismanaging and covering up” the threat, even though it declared a public health emergency on 30 January.
Critics immediately attacked the move to cut money from a critical UN agency during a global pandemic, with EU High Representative Borrell, a former Spanish MEP and president of Parliament, saying, “I deeply regret the US decision to suspend funding to WHO. There is no reason justifying this move at a moment when their efforts are needed more than ever.”
He said there was “no reason” to freeze WHO funding at a critical stage and called for measures to promote unity instead of division.
“I deeply regret the US decision to suspend funding to WHO. There is no reason justifying this move at a moment when their efforts are needed more than ever” Josep Borrell, EU High Representative
The US is the worst affected country in the world in terms of infection numbers, with more than 600,000 cases and 26,000 deaths.
Trump accused the WHO of having failed to adequately assess the outbreak when it first emerged in the city of Wuhan.
“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,” he told reporters.
“This would have saved thousands of lives and avoided worldwide economic damage. Instead, the WHO willingly took China's assurances at face value … and defended the actions of the Chinese government. With the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, we have deep concerns whether America's generosity has been put to the best use possible,” he said.
Further criticism of his decision came from Belgian Renew Europe member Hilde Vautmans, who said, “President Trump’s decision to freeze funding for the WHO is dangerous and irresponsible. Now is not the time to point fingers. The EU must see what can be done to minimise the risks following this decision.”
“The WHO is one of our major international partners to save lives while facing the COVID-19 pandemic. Pulling out of this global fight leaves everyone behind” Janez Lenarčič, EU Commissioner
The S&D Group in Parliament, in a statement, said, “Trump’s decision to halt funding to the WHO in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis is unacceptable. Using the Coronavirus spread for cheap political gains is irresponsible. We need to face this common global threat with the help of the WHO.”
Janez Lenarčič, EU Commissioner for crisis management, said, “The WHO is one of our major international partners to save lives while facing the COVID19 pandemic. Pulling out of this global fight leaves everyone behind. It is crucial we work together on a global scale to save lives, especially the most vulnerable at higher risk.”
Elsewhere, António Guterres, the UN secretary general, declared now was “not the time to reduce the resources for the operations of the World Health Organization or any other humanitarian organization in the fight against the virus.”
Germany's foreign minister tweeted that strengthening the “under-funded” WHO was one of the best investments that could be made at this time.
Heiko Maas said, “Placing blame doesn’t help. The virus knows no borders. We must work closely against COVID-19. Strengthening the UN, in particular the underfunded WHO, is a better investment, for example, to develop and distribute tests and vaccines.”
“Halting funding for the World Health Organization during a world health crisis is as dangerous as it sounds” Bill Gates, Microsoft founder and philanthropist
The Netherlands has also thrown its support behind the WHO. “Now is not the time to hold back funding. Once the pandemic is under control, lessons can be learned. For now, focus on overcoming this crisis,” Sigrid Kaag, Dutch minister for foreign trade and development cooperation, said on Twitter.
Bill Gates, the Microsoft founder and philanthropist, said on Twitter: “Halting funding for the World Health Organization during a world health crisis is as dangerous as it sounds.”
Sophie Harman, a professor of international politics at Queen Mary University of London, said, “If Trump was making a great success of the pandemic response in the US, if there were minimal cases and deaths there, that might be different. But things are getting worse and that reinforces the need for WHO.”
Despite a storm of protests, President Trump’s decision to cut funding was welcomed in some quarters, including Lithuanian EPP member Aušra Maldeikienė who said, "The WHO ignored Taiwan's warning that COVID-19 can be transmitted between humans, believing China's lies instead.”
“On the question of Taiwan's admission to the WHO – China bought the WHO's silence. It is quite easy to agree with Donald Trump's decision to defund the WHO.”
The Hong Kong democracy activist Joshua Wong echoed these sentiments, calling the WHO an “arm of Chinese diplomacy.”