U.S. President Donald Trump says his cuts to World Health Organization funding will go from temporary to permanent if the agency “does not commit to major substantive improvements within the next 30 days.”
In a letter to WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Trump offered a list of criticisms that he says support his complaints that the agency has shown an “alarming lack of independence from the People’s Republic of China” during the coronavirus pandemic.
“It is clear the repeated missteps by you and your organization in responding to the pandemic have been extremely costly for the world. The only way forward for the World Health Organization is if it can actually demonstrate independence from China,” Trump wrote.
Among his specific criticisms, Trump said the WHO made repeated claims about the virus that were “grossly inaccurate or misleading,” that the agency did not properly pressure China for timely admission of international experts, and that it praised China’s internal travel restrictions while being against Trump’s decision to ban entry to travelers from China.
A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said Tuesday that Trump’s letter was an attempt to smear China and that the United States is shirking its international obligations.
On Monday, he defended the WHO’s coronavirus response in an address to member states at the World Health Assembly.
“WHO sounded the alarm early, and we sounded it often. We notified countries, issued guidance for health workers within 10 days, and declared a global health emergency — our highest level of alert — on the 30th of January. At the time, there were less than 100 cases and no deaths outside China,” Tedros said.
Trump repeatedly praised China in the early months of the outbreak, writing in late January that the United States “greatly appreciates their efforts and transparency.” In late March he tweeted: “China has been through much & has developed a strong understanding of the Virus. We are working closely together. Much respect!”
But as criticism of his own response to the outbreak mounted, Trump became more vocal in pushing for an investigation of China’s response and accusing the country of not doing enough to stop the spread of the virus early.
Other nations have joined those calls, including a European Union-drafted resolution at the World Health Assembly seeking an independent and comprehensive review.
Tedros said the WHO is “committed to transparency, accountability and continues improvement” as he welcomed the resolution.
“I will initiate an independent evaluation at the earliest appropriate moment to review experience gained and lessons learned, and to make recommendations to improve national and global pandemic preparedness and response,” he said.
Chinese President Xi Jinping said Monday that China supports a “comprehensive evaluation” of the global response to the pandemic, after it “has been brought under control.
The international fight against the virus includes teams working on dozens of potential coronavirus vaccine candidates.
That effort got a boost Monday with U.S. firm Moderna reporting that its first clinical tests indicate its vaccine “elicits an immune response of the magnitude caused by natural infection.”
The company plans to soon begin a larger second of three phases of trials necessary to prove the vaccine is both effective and safe.
Health officials have cautioned it could be next year before a vaccine is available to the public.
With no such protection currently available, governments are relying on lockdown orders, social distancing orders and having people wear masks to try to stop the spread of the virus.
Turkey became the latest country to announce it will have a strict curfew in place for the Eid al-Fitr holiday marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
People in Morocco will also be required to stay at home as the government announced Monday its nationwide lockdown will be in place until June 10.
In South Sudan, Vice President Riek Machar said he tested positive for COVID-19.
Worldwide, there are about 4.8 million confirmed cases and 319,000 deaths.