U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday halted funding to the World Health Organization over its handling of the coronavirus pandemic, drawing condemnation from infectious disease experts as the global death toll continued to mount.
Trump, who has reacted angrily to criticism of his administration’s response to the worst epidemic in a century, has become increasingly hostile towards the WHO.
The Geneva-based organisation had promoted China’s “disinformation” about the virus that likely led to a wider outbreak than otherwise would have occurred, Trump said.
“The WHO failed in this basic duty and must be held accountable,” Trump told a White House news conference on Tuesday.
Nearly 2 million people globally have been infected and more than 124,000 have died since the disease emerged in China late last year, according to a Reuters tally.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said it was not the time to reduce resources for the WHO.
“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 in a statement.
The United States is the biggest overall donor to the WHO, contributing more than $400 million in 2019, roughly 15% of its budget.
“This is nothing more than a transparent attempt by President Trump to distract from his history downplaying the severity of the coronavirus crisis and his administration’s failure to prepare our nation,” said Leslie Dach, the chair of Protect Our Care.
“To be sure, the World Health Organization is not without fault but it is beyond irresponsible to cut its funding at the height of a global pandemic.”
More than 2,200 died in the United States alone on Tuesday, a record toll according to a Reuters tally, even as the country debated how to reopen its economy.
New York City, the U.S. city hardest hit by the pandemic, revised its death toll sharply up to more than 10,000 on Tuesday, to include victims presumed to have perished from the lung disease but never tested.
‘NOT SEEING THE PEAK YET’
After weeks of lockdowns in several European countries, the WHO said the number of new cases were tailing off in some areas, such as Italy and Spain, but outbreaks were growing in Britain and Turkey.
“The overall world outbreak – 90% of cases are coming from Europe and the United States of America. So we are certainly not seeing the peak yet,” WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris told a briefing in Geneva.
Britain, where the government has come under criticism for its slow approach to testing and for not getting protective equipment to the frontlines of health care, has the fifth-highest death toll globally.
The toll in British hospitals rose to 12,107 as of Monday but is expected to be much higher when deaths in the community are included.
In France, President Emmanuel Macron on Monday extended a virtual lockdown to May 11. Spain, Denmark and Austria have allowed partial returns to work.
India extended a lockdown on its 1.3 billion people until at least May 3 and Prime Minister Narendra Modi said economic sacrifices were needed to save lives as the number of coronavirus cases exceeded 10,000.
New cases in mainland China dropped to 46, compared to 89 a day earlier, Chinese health officials reported on Wednesday, with one further death. Most cases were from overseas travellers returning from Russia.
The global economy is expected to shrink by 3% this year, the International Monetary Fund said, marking the steepest downturn since the Great Depression.
World leaders, in considering easing curbs, have to balance risks to health and to the economy as the lockdowns have strangled supply lines, especially in China, and brought economic activity to a virtual halt.
Trump, who has declared he will decide when to lift lockdowns, suggested some Democratic state governors were “mutineers” after New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said he would refuse any order that risked reigniting the outbreak.
Trump’s top infectious disease adviser, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said the president’s May 1 target for restarting the economy was “overly optimistic”.
Airlines have been among the hardest hit as borders have closed and citizens have been told to stay at home to slow the spread.
The U.S. Treasury Department said major passenger airlines have agreed in principle to a $25 billion rescue package, ensuring airline workers have jobs until October while the industry battles its biggest-ever crisis.
In New Zealand, where a strict lockdown has limited the number of cases and deaths, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced she, her ministers and public service chief executives will take a 20% pay cut for the next six months given the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
The White House said Trump would hold a video teleconference with leaders from the Group of Seven nations on Thursday to coordinate responses. Health ministers from the Group of 20 major economies will speak by videoconference on Sunday to address the outbreak’s impact.