April 15, 2020 17:11:28
US President Donald Trump’s criticism of the World Health Organisation (WHO) over its handling of the coronavirus pandemic finally boiled over today when he announced he was instructing his administration to halt funding of the organisation.
Mr Trump said the WHO had “failed in its basic duty”, promoted Chinese “disinformation” about the virus, and “it must be held accountable”.
But the decision to cut funding to the WHO comes at a time when the organisation says it needs financial support now more than ever to fight the worst global pandemic in 100 years.
Here is how we got to this point and why Mr Trump has been increasingly critical of the WHO.
What has Trump had to say about China and the WHO?
Mr Trump had been suggesting for some time he was going to cut US funding to the WHO, saying it was fortunate he rejected its advice on “keeping our borders open to China early on”.
Last week, the US President attacked the organisation for being too “China-centric” in its handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
“The WHO really blew it,” he said.
Since then, Mr Trump has continued to retweet articles critical of China and the WHO, including one with a headline suggesting China had not been truthful about COVID-19.
Stay up-to-date on the coronavirus outbreak
That all led to today when Mr Trump told a White House news conference the US had deep concerns about whether money it had sent to the WHO had been put to the best use.
The US President says the coronavirus outbreak could have been contained at its source and lives could have been saved if the UN health agency had done a better of investigating reports coming out of China early on.
The WHO has declined to comment on Mr Trump’s decision.
Why is Trump saying all this?
According to the ABC’s Washington bureau chief David Lipson, Mr Trump is under mounting pressure over the rising coronavirus death toll in the United States.
“He’s doing what he does best: picking fights with his perceived enemies.
“Yesterday he attacked the media. Today he blasted the World Health Organisation, accusing it of “severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus” and promising to cut its funding while a review is conducted.
“The WHO’s handling of the crisis has been far from perfect. It publicly supported China’s early claims about the virus in January that human-to-human transmission had not been proven.
“But it’s the WHO’s opposition to travel bans that have upset Mr Trump the most.
“The World Health Organisation has long said that travel restrictions during pandemics don’t really work and can give people a false sense of security.
“Mr Trump insists his move to temporarily ban people entering the US from China bought valuable time in the fight against the virus.
“But throughout February and early March, Mr Trump appeared to do little else to prepare, preferring to downplay the severity of the threat.
“Now, the US has by far the most COVID-19 infections in the world and the most deaths.
“By picking another fight, there may be less attention paid to America’s rising death toll.”
So what has the WHO said on the origin of coronavirus?
According to the WHO, the source of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus causing COVID-19, is currently unknown.
It says all available evidence suggests SARS-CoV-2 has a natural animal origin and is not a constructed virus. But it has suggested the virus is linked to bats.
As for the first human cases of COVID-19, the WHO says they were identified in Wuhan, China, in December 2019.
At this stage, it says it is not possible to determine precisely how humans in China were initially infected with SARS-CoV-2.
And what has the WHO said about China?
In early updates on the virus, the WHO said China alerted it on December 31 that it was noticing some strange pneumonia cases in Wuhan, in the Hubei province.
According to the WHO, authorities said they had been noticing cases of the mysterious disease since about December 12.
Since the outbreak, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has praised China for its response, commending President Xi Jinping’s “rare leadership”, according to Reuters.
The organisation has also defended itself against Mr Trump’s criticisms, with a senior adviser to WHO director-general Bruce Aylward last week saying its work with Beijing authorities was important to understanding the outbreak.
“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,” he told reporters.
“This is what we did with every other hard-hit country like Spain and had nothing to do with China specifically.”
What is China’s view on this?
So far there has been little reaction from Beijing to Mr Trump’s decision to suspend funding to the WHO.
But when asked about Mr Trump’s criticism of the WHO last week, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Mr Ghebreyesus played an important role in promoting international cooperation to combat the pandemic. However, he didn’t directly address the criticism.
Your questions on coronavirus answered:
“China will continue to support the work of WHO in coordinating international efforts to counter the virus,” he said, adding US decision to halt payments to the WHO would harm the “global fight against the virus”.
According to the ABC’s China correspondent Bill Birtles, the Government has already spent weeks defending both the WHO and China’s own pandemic control efforts.
What will losing aid mean for the WHO?
The US President clearly feels he’s not getting value for money if the WHO is taking China’s line over that of the US.
The US contributes more to the WHO’s budget than any other country, providing $620 million ($US398 million) a year of its $7.5 billion annual budget.
That’s about 10 times what China puts in. Small countries like Australia provide about 0.75 per cent of the WHO’s yearly funding.
However, Mr Trump was already planning to reduce the amount of money the US contributed to the WHO before the pandemic hit.
What the experts are saying about coronavirus:
In the White House budget for 2021, he proposed cutting the US contribution to just $90 million a year.
Cutting off aid could be a major blow to the organisation, which says it needs more resources than ever to conduct vaccine trials and distribute test kits.
On April 11, the WHO said it would need an extra $1.5 billion to fight the coronavirus pandemic this year.
Mr Ghebreyesus has also urged governments to avoid politicising the virus.
“The focus of all political parties should be to save their people,” he said.
“If you don’t want many more body bags, then you refrain from politicising it,” he said.
What you need to know about coronavirus:
April 15, 2020 16:42:04