Geneva (AFP) – World Health Organization member states agreed Tuesday to launch an investigation into its coronavirus response, after US President Donald Trump threatened to quit the UN agency and branded it a “puppet of China”.
Trump has been locked in a bitter spat with Beijing, alleging it covered up the initial COVID-19 outbreak in central China late last year before the disease unleashed death and economic devastation across the planet.
Under pressure at home in the United States, which has far more deaths and cases than any other country, Trump has also targeted the WHO with accusations that it failed to do enough to combat the initial spread of the disease.
“They’re a puppet of China, they’re China-centric to put it nicer,” he said at the White House on Monday, before threatening to make permanent a temporary freeze on US funding to the body.
Beijing, in turn, accused Trump of trying to “smear” China and shirking American responsibilities to the WHO.
With the row threatening the global response to the pandemic, WHO countries adopted a resolution calling for an “impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation” of the international response and the measures taken by the agency.
Both the United States and China voted for the resolution tabled by the European Union at the WHO’s annual assembly, despite earlier fears that the tensions might make a full consensus impossible.
More than 318,000 people have died of COVID-19 out of over 4.8 million infections worldwide since its emergence, and governments are scrambling to contain the virus while seeking ways to resuscitate their economies.
– ‘A pill every day’ –
Trump turned the screws on the WHO on Monday — first in a press conference and then in a letter to the head of the organisation — giving it 30 days to show “substantive improvements” that demonstrated its “independence” from Beijing.
The letter to Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus threatened to permanently freeze US funding. The US is by far the biggest contributor.