US criticizes WHO for ignoring Taiwan virus warnings
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: October 21, 2020 - 7:45pm

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

October 21, 2020 - 7:45pm

The Czech government says Wednesday it would curb movement and close shops and services to battle a huge spike in COVID-19 cases.

"The government will... curb movement and contacts with other people... with the exception of trips to work, shopping and trips to the doctor," Health Minister Roman Prymula told reporters.

He added the government would also close all retail outlets except food shops, drugstores and pharmacies from Thursday morning until November 3. — AFP

October 20, 2020 - 3:04pm

A number of European countries took urgent new measures on Monday to combat a second wave of coronavirus infections, as the World Health Organization blamed the surge in worldwide cases — now more than 40 million — on countries' failure to quarantine infected people properly.

Ireland and Wales became the first countries on the continent to re-enter lockdown as the number of people who have died from COVID-19 in Europe passed 250,000, according to an AFP tally.

Irish prime minister Micheal Martin issued a nationwide "stay at home" order from midnight Wednesday, with all non-essential retail businesses to close and bars and restaurants limited to takeaway service only, although schools will remain open. — AFP

October 20, 2020 - 7:29am

Canada, in the midst of a second wave of COVID-19 illnesses, topped 200,000 cases and inched closer to 10,000 deaths Monday, according to official data compiled by Canadian broadcasters CBC and CTV.

About 80% of these cases and more than 90% of the deaths were recorded in the country's two most populous provinces, Ontario and Quebec, which has been the epicenter of the country's epidemic since it broke out in Canada last March.

As of Monday afternoon, Canada had 200,039 cases and 9,772 dead — with its two westernmost provinces still to report their updated tallies — according to the public health data.

That amounts to 532 cases per 100,000 people in the country of 38 million, or five times fewer than in the United States. — AFP

October 19, 2020 - 10:37pm

The novel coronavirus has killed at least 1,114,836 people since the outbreak emerged in China last December, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP at 11:00 GMT Monday.

At least 40,064,580 cases of coronavirus have been registered, of whom at least 27,549,400 are now considered recovered.

The tallies, using data collected by AFP from national authorities and information from the World Health Organization (WHO), probably reflect only a fraction of the actual number of infections. Many countries are testing only symptomatic or the most serious cases. — AFP

October 19, 2020 - 8:30pm

South Africa's Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said he has tested positive for COVID-19 just two days after the country's diagnosed cases topped 700,000.

The 64-year-old minister is the fifth member of the government to contract the virus after his colleagues in the ministries of defence, labour, trade and mineral resources.

"I wish to inform the public that this afternoon my wife, Dr May Mkhize, and I have tested positive for COVID-19," said Mkhize is a statement late Sunday. — AFP

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