The US leader accused the World Health Organization (WHO) of “severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus,” claiming the agency conspired with Beijing to cover up the severity of the Covid-19 pandemic. Trump said American funding would be frozen pending a US investigation into his theory.
Withdrawing the money at a time when the disease is months from being brought under control has caused a global backlash for Washington, with some commenters more polite than others.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the WHO “must be supported, as it is absolutely critical to the world’s efforts to win the war against Covid-19.” However, he resisted mentioning the US or its decision to defund the agency directly.
Beijing, the WHO’s supposed accomplice in misleading the world and the Trump administration in particular, called on the US to fulfill its obligations to the organization in full. “China will look into relevant issues according to the needs of the situation,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said when asked if his nation would step in to cover the budgetary deficit left by US withdrawal.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said member states “deeply regret” the funding freeze and that there was nothing to justify the timing of the move. A French government spokesperson confirmed that Paris shared this sentiment in a statement. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas noted that assigning blame wouldn’t help beat the virus and said strengthening the UN and its health body was “one of the best investments” at the moment.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said Trump’s decision was “an expression of the very egoistic approach of the American authorities” to global affairs, while Maria Zakharova, the spokesperson for the Russian ministry said the US is always finding a scapegoat for its own blunders.
This line coincided with one used by Trump’s domestic critics. “The president is showing us his political playbook: blame the WHO, blame China, blame his political opponents, blame his predecessors – do whatever it takes to deflect from the fact that his administration mismanaged this crisis,” said Democratic representative Eliot Engel.
Dangerous step, crime against humanity
Health professionals at home and elsewhere were not thrilled about Trump’s decision either. The American Medical Association called it “a dangerous step in the wrong direction that will not make defeating Covid-19 easier,” and urged Trump to reconsider.
The director of the US Centers for Disease Control said his agency and the WHO “have had a long history of working together in multiple outbreaks around the world,” and that this cooperation will not be disrupted by Trump’s move.
“We’ve had a very productive public health relationship,” Robert Redfield told ABC. “We continue to have that.”
Amesh Adalja, an infectious diseases expert at the John Hopkins University Center for Health Security, told Reuters the defunding was sending “the wrong message during the middle of a pandemic” regardless of what reforms the WHO may need.
Richard Horton, the editor-in-chief of the Lancet medical journal said the move was “a crime against humanity” that every medic should resist. He called on Dr Anthony Fauci, Trump’s leading infectious disease adviser, to correct his boss.