China hits back at Trump for pulling $500m of WHO funding over Covid-19 ‘failure’
15 April 2020, 12:08 | Updated: 15 April 2020, 12:34
China has hit back at the US over Donald Trump's decision to pull hundreds of millions of dollars of funding from the World Health Organisation (WHO), accusing them of failing in their handling of the coronavirus crisis.
Speaking at Tuesday's White House briefing, Mr Trump said the WHO "failed in its basic duty and it must be held accountable".
The US leader also accused the WHO of "severely mismanaging and covering up" the coronavirus pandemic. He said the organisation chose "political correctness" over supporting travel restrictions.
Mr Trump added the decision was pending a review of its warnings about the coronavirus and its links to China, where the outbreak began.
China hit back angrily against the US today, with Beijing saying the WHO had been updated in a “timely” manner and called accusations the Chinese government wasn’t transparent “unfair.”
The USA is now at the epicentre of the pandemic with 592,743 confirmed Covid-19 cases and 25,239 coronavirus-related deaths.
However, Trump insisted that "thousands and thousands of people would have died" if it was not for his decision to suspend travel from China.
The United States is the biggest overall donor to the WHO, contributing more than $400m in 2019, roughly 15 per cent of its budget.
There has been increasing tension between the US and China after President Trump and the Beijing administration took part in an escalating trade war, with tit for tat imposition of tariffs on one another's goods.
"The reality is that the WHO failed to adequately obtain, vet, and share information in a timely and transparent fashion." pic.twitter.com/2t5ipAeixQ— The White House (@WhiteHouse) April 14, 2020
World leaders and experts have also reacted to the decision by Donald Trump.
Germany's foreign minister Heiko Maas said: "Apportioning blame doesn't help. The virus knows no borders."We have to work closely together against #COVID19.
"One of the best investments is to strengthen the @UN, especially the under-funded @WHO, for example for developing and distributing tests and vaccines."
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters that the coronavirus pandemic was at a critical stage and the US decision would "affect all countries around the world".
The United Nations have also condemned the decision, with Secretary-General Antonio Guterres saying "This is not the time to reduce resources for WHO operations.
"Now is the time for unity and for the international community to work together in solidarity to stop this virus and its shattering consequences," he said.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said: "At a time like this when we need to be sharing information and we need to have advice we can rely on, the WHO has provided that.
"We will continue to support it and continue to make our contributions," Ardern said.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he sympathised with Trump's criticisms of the WHO.
However, he continued: "But that said, the WHO also as an organisation does a lot of important work including here in our region in the Pacific and we work closely with them.
"We are not going to throw the baby out with the bathwater here, but they are also not immune from criticism and immune from doing things better."
US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel said: "With each passing day of this worsening crisis, 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 and it's now costing thousands of American lives."
Experts have also been critical of the President's decision.
Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security said: "The move sends the wrong message during the middle of a pandemic".
"It's not the middle of a pandemic that you do this type of thing," said Dr Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease expert and senior scholar at the centre.
He said the WHO is crucial as it collects information about where the virus is active in every county in the world, which the United States needs to help guide decisions about when to open borders.
The American Medical Association called the decision "a dangerous step in the wrong direction that will not make defeating COVID-19 easier."
Dr Michael Head, senior research fellow in global health at the University of Southampton, said: "Politically volatile leadership is rarely constructive or helpful at times of crisis."
David Heymann, professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine - and previously a senior figure at the WHO - said: "By bringing experts from all countries together informally and through its independent advisory groups WHO is a trusted source of information about the Covid-19 pandemic, and this information is being made available to all countries as they do their own risk assessments and develop their own prevention and control strategies.
"I have no doubt that WHO will continue to work in this manner during the Covid-19 pandemic as a reliable and trusted source of information and guidance to countries around the world."