WASHINGTON (CN) — President Donald Trump said Tuesday the World Health Organization has “mismanaged” and “covered up” the origins of the novel coronavirus pandemic and announced the United States will halt funding to the organization until further review is conducted.
The World Health Organization improperly took China’s assurances at “face value,” Trump said Tuesday during the daily White House coronavirus task force briefing held in the Rose Garden.
Trump said the organization also praised China for their transparency improperly. But Trump himself praised China’s President Xi Jinping repeatedly and at length in January and in February as the virus swept through Wuhan and then spilled over borders near and far.
“China has been working very hard to contain the Coronavirus. The United States greatly appreciates their efforts and transparency. It will all work out well. In particular, on behalf of the American People, I want to thank president Xi!,” Trump tweeted on January 24.
As of Tuesday, the United States is approaching 600,000 positive coronavirus cases, with 25,000 dead.
Trump’s decision to pause funding to an organization that coordinates assistance for and studies infectious and communicable diseases, like the novel coronavirus, and noncommunicable diseases like cancer, follows weeks of backlash from the White House.
The president has routinely deflected criticism from public health care experts, medical professionals on the front lines, state governors and officials and even some economists about his administration’s lackluster response to the crisis.
An investigative report by The New York Times last week revealed that as far back as January, Trump’s economic adviser Peter Navarro warned members of the administration that the virus was poised to exert humongous pressure on the economy — with costs first predicted to top out at $6 trillion — and could potentially kill more than a half million people.
Navarro’s memo appeared to trigger Trump to shut down most travel between China and the United States not long after.
“The lack of immune protection or an existing cure or vaccine would leave Americans defenseless in the case of a full-blown coronavirus outbreak on U.S. soil,” Navarro wrote, according to the memo obtained by The New York Times.
A second memo penned by Navarro on Feb. 23 and first obtained by Axios, put an even finer point on the potential for massive loss of life while also calling on members of the National Security Council and the administration’s coronavirus task force to prepare for a record-breaking demand in personal protective equipment like face masks and lifesaving ventilators.
From January to late February, Trump publicly downplayed the threat despite those warnings contained in the memos. A month to the day after praising China’s transparency on Feb. 24 — and just 24 hours after Navarro issued the second memo — Trump tweeted: “The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA. We are in contact with everyone and all relevant countries. CDC & World Health have been working hard and very smart. Stock Market starting to look very good to me!”
On Tuesday, Trump offered few details on the administration’s plans to stop funding WHO. The U.S. would “redirect global health and directly work with others,” he told reporters gathered at a distance in the Rose Garden.
“All of the aid we send will be discussed in very powerful letters and with very powerful and influential groups, smart groups, medically, politically and every other way,” Trump said.
The White House’s 2021 budget had already proposed a cut of $65 million to WHO before the coronavirus gripped the globe. The figure represented a more than 50% drop in the administration’s proposed funding for 2020.
The administration has also been adamant on similar cuts — on March 10, during a remote budget hearing with lawmakers, Office of Management and Budget acting director Russ Vought proposed slashing the Health and Human Service Department’s budget by $9.5 billion. That included a $1.2 billion cut to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention during the pandemic.
“Had the WHO done its job to get experts into China to objective assess the situation on the ground and call out China’s lack of transparency, the outbreak could have been contained at its source with very little death,” Trump said Tuesday before claiming, without evidence, that had this occurred deaths could have been reduced “twenty-fold.”
Trump would not say whether he would call for the firing of World Health Organization head Tedros Adhanom.
“I don’t know the gentleman, I know there have been problems,” Trump said.
A representative from the World Health Organization did not immediately return request for comment.
Trump also said Tuesday he would like to see segments of the country reopened by May 1, but walked but claims he made Monday that he had “total authority” to decide when states can reopen. He proposed that perhaps 20 states would be able to do so but did not divulge further details. None of the task force’s health experts, including Dr. Anthony Fauci or Dr. Deborah Birx, spoke during the briefing.
“I will be speaking to all 50 governors very shortly, and I will then be authorizing each individual governor of each individual state to implement a reopening and a very powerful reopening plan of their state at a time and in a manner as most appropriate,” Trump said.
He added that he thinks “each one of them will do an incredible job.”
When facing a question on the lack of testing for Americans, Trump said, “The governors are supposed to be testing. It’s up to the governors.”