“We‘re going to put a hold on money spent to the WHO. We’re going to put a very powerful hold on it and we‘re going to see,“ Trump said at the outset of a coronavirus task force briefing at the White House.
President Donald Trump on Tuesday announced plans to put a hold on U.S. funding for the World Health Organization, accusing the United Nations specialized agency of being “very China centric” and criticizing its early guidance aimed at countering the international spread of the coronavirus.
Minutes later, though, the president walked back the declaration, telling reporters that he was “looking into it” and conceding that a global pandemic was “maybe not” the best time to freeze funding for the international organization.
“I mean, I‘m not saying I‘m going to do it, but we are going to look at it,” Trump said, denying his comments from minutes earlier when pressed by reporters. “I said we’re going to look at it. We’re going to investigate it, we’re going to look at it. But we will look at ending funding.”
The president appeared to be following through on a threat he‘d made earlier in the day to slash federal funding for the organization.
“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,” Trump wrote on Twitter earlier in the day.
“Fortunately I rejected their advice on keeping our borders open to China early on,” he added. “Why did they give us such a faulty recommendation?”
Throughout the administration’s response to the pandemic, the president has repeatedly promoted his decision in late January to close the border to foreign nationals who had recently been in China while instituting a mandatory two-week quarantine for U.S. citizens returning from the country’s Hubei province, the epicenter of the outbreak.
Those directives contradicted a series of WHO recommendations cautioning that “travel bans to affected areas or denial of entry to passengers coming from affected areas are usually not effective in preventing the importation” of coronavirus cases, but may instead “have a significant economic and social impact.”
The WHO did acknowledge, however, that travel restrictions “may have a public health rationale at the beginning of the containment phase of an outbreak, as they may allow affected countries to implement sustained response measures, and non-affected countries to gain time to initiate and implement effective preparedness measures.”
But the restrictions “need to be short in duration, proportionate to the public health risks, and be reconsidered regularly as the situation evolves,” the WHO advised.
The president’s initial order and the administration’s subsequent actions, of course, did not heed any of those conditions.
Trump’s travel ban was announced after the disease had already begun rampaging across China, not in the opening stage of the outbreak, and it did not accompany broader federal efforts to prepare the U.S. for the coming pandemic.
The ban, which has now extended beyond two months, also was not “short in duration” and included exemptions that reportedly allowed nearly 40,000 people to enter the U.S. on direct flights from China.
The inability to screen Americans for the coronavirus on a larger scale as it began proliferating within the U.S. has been perhaps the most criticized aspect of the administration’s early response, in addition to Trump’s attempts to downplay the nature of the disease’s threat.
Although WHO was instrumental in bolstering testing operations in dozens of countries at the outset of the global public health crisis, U.S. officials chose not to use the agency’s kits and struggled to develop their own tests.
Asked on Tuesday evening about WHO‘s accurate testing that was “central” to data modeling used by the administration, Trump responded, “That I don’t know.”
“I can only say with regard to us, they are taking a lot of heat because I didn‘t want the borders closed,” he added. “They called it wrong. They called, they really called, I would say every aspect of it, wrong.”
Trump’s suggestion to reduce WHO’s funding comes after he already proposed in the White House’s budget request for fiscal year 2021 cutting in half the amount Congress allocated the agency in 2020 — from roughly $122 million to less than $58 million.
Among WHO’s 194 member states, the U.S. remains the greatest contributor to the agency’s $4.8 billion budget.