New York, April 15 (IANS) Accusing the World Health Organisation (WHO) of causing thousands of deaths by collaborating with China to initially cover up the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic, US President Donald Trump has announced that he will stop funding the WHO.
Trump said on Tuesday, “The WHO pushed China’s misinformation about the virus, saying it was not communicable and there was no need for travel bans” and its “reliance on China’s disclosures likely caused a 20-fold increase in cases worldwide.”
He did not say that the US would pull out of the organisation but only that funding would be on temporary hold “while a review is conducted to assess the World Health Organization’s role in severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus.”
“Our countries are now experiencing — you look all over the world — tremendous death and economic devastation because those tasked with protecting us by being truthful and transparent failed to do so,” he said.
The US pays 22 per cent of WHO’s annual assessments of $2.47 billion from members.
Its dues for the current year is $580 million and it has arrears of $413 million from previous years, according to WHO.
Even before Trump announced the halt to funding, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said it is “not the time to reduce the resources for the operations of the World Health Organisation or any other humanitarian organization in the fight against the virus.”
Support for WHO “is absolutely critical to the world’s efforts to win the war against COVID-19,” he said.
The Senate Homeland Security Committee is also planning an investigation of the WHO’s role in the coronavirus pandemic and the origins of the virus, according to the panel’s Chairman Ron Johnson. He told Politico that the probe would also look into the lack of preparation for the crisis and the dependence on foreign manufacturers for essential medical equipment.
Trump, who has made his January 31 decision to bar visitors from China as an important plank of his defence against allegations that he did not act soon enough, said that WHO had “fought” the travel ban.
He was also attacked by Democrat leader Joe Biden, who is the party’s likely presidential candidate, for imposing travel restrictions.
Trump also criticised WHO’s inaction on the silencing and punishment of Chinese doctors and scientists who first set off alarm bells about the virus.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has been crticised for his role in handling the pandemic.
Asked at his briefing if he would resume support for the organisation if Tedros was replaced, Trump said, “I don’t know the gentleman, but I know there have been problems.”
China has an outsize influence over international organisations because it has been able to mobilise support among developing countries, especially the smaller ones, through aid programmes that lack transparency and have implicit or direct conditions.
Trump, who has made his decision to bar visitors from China on January 31 an important plank of his defence against allegations that he did not take preventive measures soon enough, again criticised WHO saying it had “fought” the travel ban.
The travel ban was also attacked by Democrat leader Joe Biden, the likely party candidate for president.
Trump also criticised the WHO for not defending the Chinese doctors and researchers who first set off alarms about the virus but were silenced or punished by the government.
The pandemic has increased Beijing’s influence because it has a stranglehold on medical equipment and supplies needed by countries around the world and is profiting from the consequences of a virus that originated there.
The US has been running an “airbridge” of jets ferrying essential medical supplies and this, along with donations by Chinese philanthropists, obfuscates China’s role in the pandemic.
New York has received donations of ventilators from Chinese e-commerce entrepreneurs Jack Ma and Joe Tsa and Democratic governors Andrew Cuomo of New York and Phil Murphy of New Jersey have publicly thanked China for its help.
Trump has also had to be diplomatic in dealing with China because of the dependence on it to face the pandemic.
He has often praised China’s President Xi Jinping and even initially said that China was cooperating in stemming the pandemic before it blew up into a global problem.
Trump has questioned the US dependence on China, built over decades of Democratic and Republican administrations and has faced criticism for trying to reverse it through trade wars and “Buy American” campaign but the pandemic has brought home the dangers.
His trade adviser, Peter Navarro, recently said, “We are dangerously over-dependent on a global supply chain. Never again should we rely on the rest of the world for our essential medicines and countermeasures.”
(Arul Louis can be contacted at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @arulouis)