(Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump has instructed his administration to temporarily halt funding to the World Health Organization (WHO) over its handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
Trump said the WHO had “failed in its basic duty and it must be held accountable”. He said it promoted China’s “disinformation” about the virus that likely led to a wider outbreak.
The United States is the biggest overall donor to the Geneva-based WHO, contributing more than $400 million in 2019, roughly 15% of its budget.
* CHINA’S FOREIGN MINISTRY
China urged the United States to fulfil its obligations to the WHO. Foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said the coronavirus pandemic, which has infected nearly 2 million people globally, was at a critical stage and that the U.S. decision would affect all countries.
* GERMAN FOREIGN MINISTER HEIKO MAAS
“Apportioning blame doesn’t help. The virus knows no borders,” Maas said on Twitter on Wednesday.
“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.”
* AMERICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION PRESIDENT
Dr. Patrice Harris called it “a dangerous step in the wrong direction that will not make defeating COVID-19 easier” and urged Trump to reconsider.
* U.N. SECRETARY GENERAL ANTONIO GUTERRES
“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.
* JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY CENTER FOR HEALTH SECURITY
“The move sends the wrong message during the middle of a pandemic,” said Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious diseases expert and senior scholar.
Adalja said the WHO does make mistakes, as it did in delaying the response to the Ebola outbreak in 2013 and 2014 in West Africa. He said reforms may be needed, but that work needs to take place after the pandemic has passed.
“It’s not the middle of a pandemic that you do this type of thing,” he said.
Adalja said the WHO 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.
* U.S. CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION
Directed requests for comment to the White House.
* PROTECT OUR CARE
“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 Chair Leslie Dach, who served as the global Ebola coordinator for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
“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. This move will undoubtedly make Americans less safe.”
Protect Our Care is a U.S. organisation working to protect affordable coverage for all Americans.
* VANDERBILT UNIVERSITY MEDICAL CENTER
“This virus doesn’t need passports. In a few short months it has travelled to all of the continents of the world except Antarctica. If there were ever an event that showed us how we need to work tougher as a global community, this is it,” said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease experts.
* CHAIRMAN, U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE
“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,” Democratic representative Eliot Engel.
* NEW ZEALAND PRIME MINISTER JACINDA ARDERN
“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,” she said.
* AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER SCOTT MORRISON
Morrison said he sympathised with Trump’s criticisms of the WHO, especially its support of re-opening China’s “wet markets”, where freshly slaughtered animals are sold and where the outbreak first appeared in the city of Wuhan late last year.
“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,” Morrison said.
“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.”
Reporting by Michael Perry; Editing by Stephen Coates