In this file photo taken on March 09, 2020 a picture shows the sign of the World Health Organization (WHO), with its Chinese name under at the WHO headquarters in Geneva. US President Donald Trump attacked the World Health Organization on April 7, 2020, saying it is "China centric" and issued bad advice at the outset of the coronavirus pandemic.
AFP/Fabrice Coffrini
US criticizes WHO for ignoring Taiwan virus warnings
Shaun Tandon (Agence France-Presse) - April 10, 2020 - 8:50am

WASHINGTON, United States — The United States on Thursday accused the World Health Organization of putting politics first by ignoring early coronavirus warnings by Taiwan, which voiced outrage over criticism from the UN body's chief. 

President Donald Trump has gone on an offensive with threats to withhold funding for the WHO, which is at the forefront of fighting the pandemic that has infected more than 1.5 million people worldwide since emerging in Wuhan, China late last year.

Critics say that Trump's sudden threats against the WHO amount to a political ploy to find a foreign scapegoat as he comes under fire for not doing more to prepare for and control COVID-19, which has killed about 15,000 people in the United States.

Trump himself said in January that the United States had the coronavirus "totally under control" and predicted it may go away in April as temperatures rise.

Elaborating on Trump's case against the WHO, the State Department said the WHO was too late in sounding the alarm over COVID-19 and overly deferential to China. It questioned why the Geneva-based body did not pursue a lead from Taiwan.

The United States is "deeply disturbed that Taiwan's information was withheld from the global health community, as reflected in the WHO's January 14, 2020 statement that there was no indication of human-to-human transmission," a State Department spokesperson said.

"The WHO once again chose politics over public health," she said, criticizing the WHO for denying Taiwan even observer status since 2016.

The WHO's actions have "cost time and lives," the spokesperson said.

Taiwan, which has succeeded in limiting the virus to just five deaths despite the island's proximity and ties with China, warned the WHO on December 31 of human-to-human transmission, Vice President Chen Chien-Jen has said.

Chen, an epidemiologist, told the Financial Times that Taiwanese doctors had learned that colleagues in Wuhan were falling ill but that the WHO did not work to confirm the finding.

China considers Taiwan — a self-ruling democracy where the mainland's defeated nationalists fled in 1949 -- to be a province awaiting reunification and has sought to exclude it from all international organizations.

Taiwan decries 'slander'

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, in an appeal Wednesday for unity, said that he had been subjected to insults including racial slights since the public health crisis began.

The Ethiopian doctor turned diplomat did not mention the United States -- the largest donor to the WHO at more than $400 million last year -- but singled out non-member Taiwan.

"Three months ago, this attack came from Taiwan," Tedros told reporters in Geneva, referring to online criticism and insults.

"Taiwan, the foreign ministry also, they know the campaign. They didn't disassociate themselves. They even started criticizing me in the middle of all that insult and slur, but I didn't care," Tedros said.

The comments sparked anger in Taiwan, which described Tedros' comments as "baseless" and said it was seeking an apology for "slander."

"Our country has never encouraged the public to launch personal attacks against him or made any racially discriminatory comments," foreign ministry spokeswoman Joanne Ou told reporters on Thursday.

In a Facebook post, President Tsai Ing-wen invited Tedros to visit Taiwan and learn from its handling of the epidemic, challenging him to "resist pressure from China." 

"We have been blocked from international organizations for many long years and we know what it feels like to be discriminated against and isolated more than anyone else," she said.

Beijing responded that Tsai's Democratic Progressive Party, which emphasizes Taiwan's separate identity, has engaged in "political manipulation" over the WHO.

"Its true aim is to seek independence through the pandemic. We are firmly opposed to this, and their scheme will never succeed," a foreign ministry spokesman said in Beijing.

Critics of Tedros have accused the WHO under his leadership of being too close to Beijing and complimentary of China's response to the coronavirus.

But some public health experts say that the WHO had little choice but to cooperate with China to preserve access in Wuhan. — with Amber Wang in Taipei

As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: May 30, 2020 - 8:49pm

Follow this page for updates on a mysterious pneumonia outbreak that has struck dozens of people in China.

May 30, 2020 - 8:49pm

The Department of Health reports 590 new cases of the coronavirus disease, bringing the national tally to 17,224.

Of the new confirmed cases, 252 were considered "fresh" and 338 were positive results returned “late.”

There are 88 recoveries 8 deaths, the Health department adds.

May 30, 2020 - 5:35pm

The Department of Health announces that the COVID-19 case bulletin for Saturday, May 30, 2020 will be released around 8:00 p.m.

May 29, 2020 - 9:37pm

The Department of Health reports 1,046 new cases of the coronavirus disease, the highest surge in a day in the Philippines. This brings the national tally to 16,634.

The agency says there are 122 recoveries and 21 new fatalities. 

May 29, 2020 - 5:39pm

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire says that out of the 539 new cases reported Thursday, only 109 were "fresh cases" or those confirmed in the last three days.

The remaining were reported infections from last week.

May 29, 2020 - 9:03am

The United States records 1,297 coronavirus deaths on Thursday, bringing its total to 101,573 since the global pandemic began, according to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University.

The country has also officially logged 1,720,613 cases of the virus, far more than any other nation, the tracker kept by the Baltimore-based university showed at 8:30 pm (0030 GMT Friday). — AFP

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