Donald Trump has threatened to cut off US funding to the World Health Organisation – accusing it of “missing the call” on the coronavirus pandemic.
The US president claimed the UN health agency has made errors of judgement in its handling of COVID-19.
He also described the WHO as “very China centric” – appearing to suggest the organisation went along with Beijing’s efforts to minimise the severity of the crisis.
The WHO has praised China for its transparency on the coronavirus, despite the fact there is reason to believe the country’s official tally does not reflect the true number of fatalities.
Beijing is another major financial contributor to the UN health agency, prompting critics to claim that the WHO lacks the independence needed to properly fulfil its role.
During his daily White House press briefing, Mr Trump initially vowed that he was putting a hold on US funding. He later backtracked and said he would “strongly consider” such a move.
The US is one of the World Health Organisation’s biggest financial backers. In February, Mr Trump’s administration had called for America’s contribution to be slashed from $122.6m (£99.5m) to $57.9m (£47m).
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Earlier on Tuesday, the president had tweeted: “The WHO really blew it. For some reason, funded largely by the United States, yet very China centric. We will be giving that a good look.
“Fortunately I rejected their advice on keeping our borders open to China early on. Why did they give us such a faulty recommendation?”
The WHO has firmly rejected Mr Trump’s claims, with UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric saying: “It is clear that the WHO has done tremendous work on COVID-19.
“In supporting countries with millions of pieces of equipment being shipped out, on helping countries with training, on providing global guidelines – WHO is showing the strength of the international health system.”
The president’s attack may be an attempt to deflect from criticism about his handling of the pandemic, with the US now having the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases worldwide.
Mr Trump played down memos written by a senior adviser in January that warned a pandemic was possible – and that the crisis could cost the US trillions of dollars and put millions of Americans at risk of illness or death.
The president claimed that he had not seen the memos at the time, adding that he would not have wanted to act prematurely.
He said: “I don’t want to create havoc and shock and everything else. I’m not going to go out and start screaming ‘This could happen, this could happen’. I’m a cheerleader for this country.”
The World Health Organisation had declared COVID-19 a public health emergency on 30 January, almost a month before Mr Trump tweeted “the coronavirus is very much under control in the USA”.
That declaration also came 43 days before Mr Trump declared a national emergency in the US.
Health experts have warned that weekly death totals will reach a new high in the US this week.
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More than 12,000 Americans have now died after testing positive for the virus, and there are approximately 380,000 confirmed infections.
Mr Trump says the US is starting to see glimmers of hope despite a “very, very painful week”.
New York state recorded 731 new coronavirus deaths on Tuesday, its biggest one-day jump yet.
In total, more than 4,000 people in New York City have now died after testing positive for COVID-19 – eclipsing the number of people who lost their lives on 9/11, the deadliest terror attack to ever happen on US soil.