U.S. President Donald Trump responds to a question about the Department of Health and Human Services Inspector General’s report on the shortage of novel coronavirus tests for hospitals during the daily coronavirus task force briefing at the White House in Washington, U.S., April 6, 2020.
Kevin Lemarque | Reuters
President Donald Trump blamed the World Health Organization for getting “every aspect” of the coronavirus pandemic wrong and threatened to withhold funding from the international organization.
“They did give us some pretty bad play calling … with regard to us, they’re taking a lot of heat because they didn’t want the borders closed, they called it wrong. They really called, I would say, every aspect of it wrong,” Trump said at a White House press conference Tuesday.
The WHO, the United Nations’ health agency, started sounding the alarm on the outbreak of a new coronavirus in Wuhan, China in mid-January, designating the COVID-19 pandemic as a global health emergency on Jan. 30 when there were just 8,200 cases in 18 countries across the world. The coronavirus has since wreaked havoc across the globe, spreading to more than 1.4 million people and killing more than 81,000, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
WHO officials declared the outbreak a pandemic on March 11, when there were just 121,000 global cases. In the U.S. alone, there are now more than 380,000 cases, according to Hopkins.
“Take a look, go through step by step. They said there’s no big deal, there’s no big problem. There’s no nothing, and then ultimately when I closed it down, they said I made a mistake in closing it down and it turned out to be right,” Trump said, referring to travel restrictions he put in place on people flying to the U.S. from China on Jan. 31 when he declared it was a public health emergency in the U.S.
While WHO officials have praised the U.S. response to the coronavirus, they’ve also been critical of some of Trump’s policies and practices surrounding it. They’ve urged people against calling COVID-19 the “Chinese virus” as Trump has done, saying that it could unintentionally lead to racial profiling.
“Viruses know no borders and they don’t care about your ethnicity, the color of your skin or how much money you have in the bank. So it’s really important we be careful in the language we use lest it lead to the profiling of individuals associated with the virus,” Dr. Mike Ryan, the executive director of WHO’s emergencies program, said at a March 18 news conference when asked about Trump’s comments inciting violence against Asians.
When WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus declared the coronavirus outbreak a global health emergency in January, he urged countries to remain calm and to not impose “measures that unnecessarily interfere with international trade or travel.”
“This is the time for facts, not fear. This is the time for science, not rumors. This is the time for solidarity, not stigma,” he said Jan. 30.
A day later, Trump signed an executive order for the U.S. to deny entry to any foreign nationals who had traveled in China within the past two weeks, aside from the immediate family of U.S. citizens.
Trump said he is thinking about withholding funds to the WHO, saying the international agency pushed back on his travel ban from China early in the COVID-19 outbreak. It’s unclear how Trump would do this, however. Congress has already authorized $122 million for the WHO for this fiscal year, and while Trump has proposed $58 million in funding for the group in fiscal year 2021 — a significant cut — Congress is unlikely to authorize such a drastic funding cut, especially in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We’re going to put a hold on money spent to the WHO” Trump said. “We will look at ending funding because you know what, they called it wrong.”
His comments repeated criticism he lobbed against the health organization over Twitter earlier Tuesday.
“The W.H.O. really blew it. For some reason, funded largely by the United States, yet very China centric. We will be giving that a good look,” he tweeted.