Trump says the U.S. will cut ties with World Health Organization

President Donald Trump announced Friday that the United States will cut ties with the World Health Organization.

“China has total control over the World Health Organization despite only paying $40 million per year compared to what the United States has been paying, which is approximately $450 million a year,” Trump said during a news conference in the White House Rose Garden.

“The world needs answers from China on the virus. We must have transparency. Why is it that China shut off infected people from Wuhan to all other parts of China?” he added. “It didn’t go to Beijing, it went nowhere else, but they allowed them to freely travel throughout the world, including Europe and the United States.”

Trump has repeatedly criticized the WHO’s response to the coronavirus, which has hit the U.S. worse than any other country, amid scrutiny of his own administration’s response to the pandemic. He has claimed the WHO is “China-centric” and blames the agency for advising against China travel bans early in the outbreak. 

“Fortunately, I was not convinced and suspended travel from China saving untold numbers of lives,” Trump said April 14. 

The agency has defended its initial response to the coronavirus pandemic, saying it gave world leaders enough time to intervene early in the outbreak.

The agency declared Covid-19 a global health emergency on Jan. 30 when there were only 82 cases outside of China and zero deaths, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during a press conference on May 1. “Meaning, the world had enough time to intervene.”

The WHO has also defended China, saying as far back as February that the country’s response to the virus was an improvement from past outbreaks such as SARS.

Earlier this month, Trump threatened to permanently cut off U.S. funding of the WHO. In a letter, he said that if the WHO “does not commit to major substantive improvements within the next 30 days, I will make my temporary freeze of United States funding to the World Health Organization permanent and reconsider our membership in the organization.”

On Friday, Trump said the WHO “failed to make the requested greatly needed reform” and the U.S. “will be today terminating our relationship with the World Health Organization and redirecting those funds to other worldwide and deserving urgent global public health needs.”

The WHO’s funding runs in two-year budget cycles. For the 2018 and 2019 funding cycle, the U.S. paid a $237 million required assessment as well as $656 million in voluntary contributions, averaging $446 million a year and representing about 14.67% of its total budget, according to WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic. 

It’s unclear exactly what mechanism Trump intends to use to terminate WHO funding, much of which is appropriated by Congress. The president typically does not have the authority to unilaterally redirect congressional funding.

Lawrence Gostin, a professor and faculty director of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University, said in a tweet Friday that Trump’s move is “unlawful” because pulling funding requires Congress, which has already authorized funding.

It’s also “dangerous” because “we’re in the middle of a pandemic,” he said.

On May 20, WHO officials said they worried the agency’s emergency programs would suffer if the president permanently pulled U.S. funding from the international agency.

Most funding from the United States goes directly out to the program that helps countries in “all sorts of fragile and difficult settings,” Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of WHO’s health emergencies program, said at the time. 

“We’ll obviously have to work with other partners to ensure those funds can still flow,” Ryan said. “This is going to be a major implication for delivering essential health services to some of the most vulnerable people in the world, and we trust developed donors will, if necessary, step in to fill that gap.”

The WHO started sounding the alarm on the outbreak in China in mid-January. On March 11, WHO officials declared the outbreak a pandemic, when there were just 121,000 global cases. The virus has now infected more than 5.8 million people worldwide, including more than 1.73 million in the U.S., according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. 

[NBC News]

Trump halts US funding for World Health Organization as it conducts coronavirus review

The U.S. will suspend funding to the World Health Organization while it reviews the agency’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, President Donald Trump announced Tuesday, saying the international health agency made mistakes that “caused so much death” as the coronavirus spread across the globe.

“Today I’m instructing my administration to halt funding of the World Health Organization while a review is conducted to assess the World Health Organization’s role in severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus,” Trump said at a White House press conference.

Trump criticized the international agency’s response to the outbreak, saying “one of the most dangerous and costly decisions from the WHO was its disastrous decision to oppose travel restrictions from China and other nations” that Trump imposed early on in the outbreak.

“Fortunately, I was not convinced and suspended travel from China saving untold numbers of lives,” he said.

It’s unclear exactly what mechanism Trump intends to use to withhold WHO funding, much of which is appropriated by Congress. The president typically does not have the authority to unilaterally redirect congressional funding.

One option might be for Trump to use powers granted to the president under the Impoundment Control Act of 1974. Under this statute, the president may propose to withhold congressional funds, but it requires congressional approval within 45 days. Absent this approval, the funds must be returned to their original, congressionally mandated purpose after 45 days.

When asked by reporters why the administration is choosing now to withhold funds, Trump said the U.S. has had problems with WHO “for years” and the nation should have done this “a long time ago.”

He said the administration will conduct a “thorough” investigation that should last 60 to 90 days.

Trump said it wasn’t about the money, “but it’s not right. So we’ll see,” he said. “This is an evaluation period, but in the meantime, we’re putting a hold on all funds going to World Health. We’ll be able to take that money and channel it to the areas that most need it.” 

The WHO didn’t immediately return CNBC’s request for comment. But in a statement, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said that now is not the time to reduce resources in the fight against Covid-19.

He said there will come a time after the epidemic is over, to look back and understand how the disease emerged and spread its devastation so quickly, “but now is not that time.”

“It is also not the time to reduce the resources for the operations of the World Health Organization or any other humanitarian organization in the fight against the virus,” Guterres said.

The coronavirus, which emerged in Wuhan, China over three months ago, has infected more than 1.9 million people worldwide and killed at least 125,678 as of Tuesday night, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Trump had first threatened last week to withhold funds from WHO, saying it pushed back on his travel ban from China early in the Covid-19 outbreak. He claimed Tuesday that WHO “pushed China’s misinformation about the virus, saying it wasn’t communicable and there was no need for travel bans.”

“The WHO willingly took China’s assurances at face value, and they willingly took it at face value and defended the actions of the Chinese government even while praising China for its so-called transparency,” he said. “I don’t think so.”

WHO started sounding the alarm on the outbreak of a new coronavirus in China, in mid-January, designating the now Covid-19 pandemic as a global health emergency on Jan. 30 when there were just 8,200 cases in 18 countries across the world.

The WHO’s global emergency declaration on Jan. 30 was nearly a month before Trump tweeted that “The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA” and six weeks before he declared a national emergency on March 13.

Two days earlier, on March 11, WHO officials declared the outbreak a pandemic, when there were just 121,000 global cases. 

In response to Trump’s attacks last week, WHO’s top official urged leaders against politicizing the outbreak “if you don’t want to have many more body bags.”

“At the end of the day, the people belong to all political parties. The focus of all political parties should be to save their people, please do not politicize this virus,”  Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a fiery address on April 8. He called for unity across the globe, saying the virus will exploit cracks in political parties, religious groups or between different nations to spread even more widely. “If you want to be exploited and if you want to have many more body bags, then you do it. If you don’t want many more body bags, then you refrain from politicizing it,” he said.

[CNBC]


Trump rips Columbia as ‘disgraceful institution’ after study showed lives lost due to delayed shutdown

President Trump ripped Columbia University as a “disgraceful institution” in a new interview released Sunday after it released a study last week concluding thousands of lives could have been spared in the U.S. if shutdowns weren’t delayed.

Sharyl Attkisson asked the president about the study, which determined almost 36,000 deaths from COVID-19 through early May could have been avoided if social distancing and lockdowns had started earlier. 

The president called the fact that the university would issue the study “a disgrace” on the show “Full Measure.”

“Columbia is a liberal, disgraceful institution to write that because all the people that they cater to were months after me,” Trump said.

“And I saw that report,” he added. “It’s a disgrace that Columbia University would do it, playing right to their little group of people that tell them what to do.”

Trump cited his January travel ban on foreign nationals from China as evidence of his administration’s early actions, adding that he took “tremendous heat” for the decision at the time. 

Columbia University did not immediately return a request for comment.

The study focused on transmission in metropolitan areas and concluded that social distancing efforts reduced the rates of COVID-19 contraction. The research was conducted with counterfactual experiments, which researchers acknowledged are based on hypothetical assumptions.

The study also found about 54,000 deaths associated with COVID-19 could have been avoided in early May if restrictions began on March 1.

Trump has repeatedly defended his administration’s response to the pandemic, including pointing to his decision in late January to restrict travel from China, while critics have said administration officials downplayed the threat and reacted too slowly.

[The Hill]

Trump says it’s ‘badge of HONOR’ for US to lead world in Covid-19 cases

President Donald Trump says that it is a “badge of honour” that the the US has more cases of the coronavirus than any other country.

Speaking at a cabinet meeting this afternoon, the president put the high figure down to the volume of Covid-19tests being carried out.

“When we have a lot of cases, I don’t look at that as a bad thing — I look at that in a certain respect as being a good thing because it means our testing is much better. … So I view it as a badge of honour, really,” he said.

Mr Trump added that this was “a great tribute to the testing and all of the work that a lot of professionals have done.”

The US has conducted 11.28 million tests for the coronavirus, according to figures updated on Monday by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

A total of 1.59 million cases of Covid-19 have been confirmed — approximately 14 per cent of those tested.

More than 91,000 American deaths have been officially recorded as directly caused by the virus.

The president brought up the topic of testing in his response to a question about whether he was considering a travel ban on Latin America, specifically Brazil which now has the third highest number of cases in the world after the US and Russia.

Initially responding that the administration was considering a travel ban, Mr Trump continued: “We hope that we’re not going to have a problem. The governor of Florida is doing very, very well testing — in particular Florida, because a big majority come in to Florida. Brazil has gone more or less herd, and they’re having problems.”

“I worry about everything, I don’t want people coming in here and infecting our people,” he continued. “I don’t want people over there sick either.”

[The Independent]


Despite FDA Caution, Trump Says He Is Taking Hydroxychloroquine As A Preventive

President Trump on Monday revealed to reporters that he has been taking hydroxychloroquine and zinc to protect against the coronavirus.

“I was just waiting to see your eyes light up when I said this,” the president told reporters, volunteering the information at the end of a roundtable with restaurant owners.

Trump said he asked his doctor about taking it after hearing from people who had done so. “Here’s my evidence — I get a lot of positive calls about it,” he said.

“I’ve taken it for about a week and a half now. And I’m still here,” he said.

The president said that he had asked the White House physician about it and that he did not start taking it in response to a specific exposure.

Trump has been promoting the drug, used to treat malaria and lupus, in briefings and on Twitter. The drug’s impact on the virus is being studied, but there is no definitive evidence yet from clinical trials — and there have been some warnings about side effects, including from the Food and Drug Administration.

Medical experts have urged caution around the drug, and last month the FDA strongly warned against using hydroxychloroquine without medical supervision, such as in a hospital or as part of a clinical trial.

Although researchers have been skeptical of hydroxychloroquine’s role in treating COVID-19, there is more enthusiasm about its potential to prevent infection. That’s because multiple studies have shown that the drug can prevent coronavirus replication.

Two such studies are currently underway.

One is being conducted by scientists and physicians at the University of Minnesota and will involve 1,500 volunteers at high risk for contracting COVID-19, either because they are health care workers or live with someone who has the disease. The study is actively recruiting high-risk health care workers and first responders from around the United States.

That study began clinical trials on April 6 to determine whether hydroxychloroquine is effective at preventing infection from SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the disease COVID-19.

The other is a multicenter study led by Duke University that is also aimed primarily at health care workers. It aims to enroll 15,000 volunteers.

Neither study has released any results.

Dr. David R. Boulware, a medical professor who launched the University of Minnesota study, said there is no data showing that using hydroxychloroquine as a preexposure prophylaxis is effective.

“It may be. It may not be. We do not know,” he told NPR.

“The only way I would recommend taking hydroxychloroquine is within a clinical trial,” he said.

[NPR]

Trump Downplays Need for Coronavirus Vaccine at His Own Big Vaccine Announcement

President Donald Trump downplayed the need for a coronavirus vaccine at his coronavirus vaccine press briefing on Friday, claiming that if a vaccine does not happen, the virus will still “go away at some point.”

“We think we are going to have a vaccine in the pretty near future, and if we do, we are going to really be a big step ahead,” President Trump declared. “And if we don’t, we are going to be like so many other cases where you had a problem come in. It’ll go away at some point, it’ll go away.”

“It may flare up and it may not flare up, we’ll have to see what happens, but if it does flare up we’re going to put out the fire and we’ll put it out quickly and efficiently,” he continued.

After being asked how long a vaccine could take, President Trump said, “We hope to be able to do something by the end of the year or shortly thereafter, but again, it’s not solely vaccine-based. Other things have never had a vaccine and they go away. So, I don’t want people to think that this is all dependent on vaccine.”

“But a vaccine would be a tremendous thing, and I will tell you, therapeutically, or therapeutics, what’s going on there is equally as impressive,” the president added.

During the briefing, President Trump also said, “I just want to make something clear. It’s very important. Vaccine or no vaccine, we’re back.”

This week, World Health Organization (WHO) Health Emergencies Program Executive Director Dr. Mike Ryan, however, warned, “This virus just may become another endemic virus in our communities and this virus may never go away. HIV hasn’t gone away.”

[Mediaite]


Truck horns blare during Trump’s Rose Garden press conference

President Trump‘s Rose Garden press conference on Friday was scored to the sound of blaring truck horns as drivers nearby protested for fair wages.

The horns, which could be heard clearly from Constitution Avenue outside the White House, persisted throughout the president’s remarks on his administration’s efforts to speed the development and production of a coronavirus vaccine.

The horns were audible for close to 30 minutes, prompting Trump to acknowledge them. He claimed they were a “sign of love” for his presidency. 

“And you hear that outside, that beautiful sound? Those are truckers that are with us all the way. They’re protesting in favor of President Trump, as opposed to against,” he said.

“That’s the sign of love, not the sign of your typical protest,” Trump added. “So I want to thank our great truckers.”

The protest coincided with Trump’s press conference to detail Operation Warp Speed, a government-wide initiative to speed the timeline to produce a coronavirus vaccine.

The demonstration by truckers mirrored one from earlier this month in which drivers lined the street near the White House and laid on their horns to protest low shipping rates, which drivers say are making it difficult to make a living wage..

Truckers are facing economic hardship as the economy contracts due to the pandemic, and The Washington Post reported that freight brokers have imposed low rates, further driving down their wages.

Congress has not provided targeted relief for the trucking industry, though Trump hosted truck drivers at a White House event last month to praise drivers for supporting U.S. commerce and supply chains amid the pandemic.

[The Hill]

Trump says coronavirus testing ‘overrated,’ claims fewer cases if no testing

While health officials continue to stress the importance of testing as the key to controlling the coronavirus pandemic, President Donald Trump on Thursday suggested testing is “overrated.”

Speaking to employees at an Owens & Minor Inc. OMI, -3.00% medical-supply plant in Allentown, Pa., Trump said testing might be the problem.

“So we have the best testing in the world,” Trump said. “It could be the testing’s, frankly, overrated? Maybe it is overrated.”

The country has more than 1.4 million confirmed cases of COVID-19, but Trump said that’s only because the U.S. has carried out more tests.

“We have more cases than anybody in the world, but why? Because we do more testing,” Trump said. “When you test, you have a case. When you test you find something is wrong with people. If we didn’t do any testing, we would have very few cases. They don’t want to write that. It’s common sense. We test much more.”

Many on social media were quick to point out the obvious flaw in the president’s logic.

[Market Watch]

Trump attacks whistleblower Bright as ‘disgruntled employee’

President Trump on Thursday criticized health official Rick Bright and said he should “no longer” be working for the federal government shortly before the whistleblower was slated to testify before a House panel about the Trump administration’s response to the novel coronavirus.

Trump tweeted that he had never met nor heard of Bright and claimed that the former federal vaccine doctor was “not liked or respected” by people whom the president has consulted, labeling him a “disgruntled employee.”

“I don’t know the so-called Whistleblower Rick Bright, never met him or even heard of him, but to me he is a disgruntled employee, not liked or respected by people I spoke to and who, with his attitude, should no longer be working for our government!” Trump tweeted Thursday morning.

Bright is expected to deliver critical testimony to a House committee later Thursday saying that the Trump administration was unprepared for the coronavirus pandemic. He plans to warn that without a coordinated national response, this year will be “the darkest winter in modern history,” according to a leaked copy of his prepared remarks.

Bright served at the helm of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority from 2016 until last month, when he was reassigned to a narrower position based at the National Institutes of Health.

Bright filed a whistleblower complaint following his reassignment alleging that his early warnings about the virus were met with indifference at the Department of Health and Human Services and that his efforts to push back on the use of hydroxychloroquine to treat the coronavirus, something Trump touted, contributed to his removal from the high-level post.

Bright is seeking to be reinstated in his former position and asked for a full investigation into the decision to reassign him.

Bright, who first came forward with his claims in late April, is slated to testify before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health at 10 a.m. Thursday morning.

Trump has repeatedly said he didn’t know Bright, while dismissing him as a seemingly “disgruntled employee.”

“I don’t know who he is. I did not hear good things about him at all,” Trump told reporters at the White House on May 6. “And to me he seems like a disgruntled employee that’s trying to help the Democrats win an election.” 

[The Hill]

‘Don’t ask me. Ask China’: Trump clashes with reporters then abruptly leaves press briefing

Donald Trump abruptly halted a press conference on Monday after being challenged by an Asian American reporter whom he told: “Don’t ask me. Ask China.”

With the stars and stripes at his back, Trump held his first press briefing since 27 April in the White House rose garden, flanked by testing equipment and swabs and signs that proclaimed: “America leads the world in testing.”

But during a question and answer session, Weijia Jiang, White House correspondent of CBS News, asked why the president constantly emphasises that the US is doing better than any other country when it comes to testing.

“Why does that matter?” she queried. “Why is this a global competition to you if every day Americans are still losing their lives and we are still seeing more cases every day?”

Trump retorted: “Well, they are losing their lives everywhere in the world. Maybe that is a question you should ask China. Don’t ask me. Ask China that question. When you ask China that question you may get a very unusual answer.”

The president then called on another reporter, Kaitlan Collins of CNN, but she paused as Jiang interjected: “Sir, why are you saying that to me, specifically?”

The president replied: “I am not saying it specifically to anybody. I am saying it to anybody who would ask a nasty question like that.”

The CBS correspondent pointed out: “That is not a nasty question.”

Collins, at the microphone, then tried to ask her question, but Trump said he was now looking to someone at the back. As Collins repeatedly objected, the president turned on his heel and left the podium.

Trump has frequently been criticised for adopting a particularly harsh or patronising tone at press conferences to women in general and women of colour in particular. Jiang was born in China but immigrated to America at the age of two.

Tara Setmayer, a political commentator, tweeted: “Another disgraceful, racist, temper tantrum by Trump b/c he was asked a pointed question by @weijia… Trump can’t handle smart, assertive women.”

Democratic Congressman Ted Lieu of California tweeted: “Dear @realDonaldTrump: Asian Americans are Americans. Some of us served on active duty in the U.S. military. Some are on the frontlines fighting this pandemic as paramedics and health care workers. Some are reporters like @weijia. Stop dividing our nation.”

Earlier at the briefing, Trump claimed that the US’s testing capacity is “unmatched and unrivalled anywhere in the world, and it’s not even close”. More than 9m tests have now been performed, he said, and where three weeks ago roughly 150,000 per day were done, the total is now 300,000 per day and will go up.

Trump said this week the US will pass 10m tests, nearly double the number of any country and more per capita than South Korea, the UK, France, Japan, Sweden, Finland and many others. But critics point out that South Korea implemented its testing much quicker, flattening the curve of cases so fewer tests were required.

The president announced his administration is sending $11bn to states, territories and tribes to boost testing. He described it as an effort to “back up” states but did not unveil the national testing strategy that many experts have called for.

Trump also claimed without basis that “if somebody wants to be tested right now, they’ll be able to be tested”, echoing a spurious claim he made way back on 6 March.

“In every generation, through every challenge and hardship and danger, America has risen to the task,” he said. “We have met the moment and we have prevailed.”

Trump, who has been encouraging states to reopen, promised: “We will defeat this horrible enemy, we will revive our economy and we will transition into greatness. That’s a phrase you’re gonna hear a lot.”

Democrats expressed scepticism. Daniel Wessel, Democratic National Committee deputy war room director, said: “Trump says we ‘prevailed’ on testing, but his response has been a complete failure and made this crisis worse than it needed to be.

“Trump still hasn’t helped states reach the testing capacity they need, every American who wants a test can’t get a test, and he is only now taking steps that should’ve happened weeks ago. While Trump wants to declare mission accomplished, the American people are still suffering and will not forget how he gave up on them.”

The campaign group Protect Our Care noted that it was 13 days since Trump said the US will run 5m daily tests “very soon” Zac Petkanas, director of its coronavirus war room, recalled that Donald Trump promised that anyone who wants a test could get a test and that the US would soon be testing 5m Americans per day.

“This wasn’t true when he said it and it’s not true today. What is true is that more than 80,000 Americans have lost their lives in large part because Donald Trump still hasn’t taken testing seriously. The only thing that the president has prevailed at is making America first in reported deaths and infections.”

The White House itself is not immune from coronavirus. Katie Miller, the press secretary for vice-president Mike Pence, and a personal valet who works for Trump both tested positive last week. Those entering the West Wing are now required to wear a mask or face covering, after a new memo was issued on Monday. Trump and Pence are being tested every day. Trump, however, is exempt from wearing a mask in the White House. It’s not clear if Pence will wear one or not.

The president said it is “shocking” how many people come in and out of the White House every day. “I’ve felt no vulnerability whatsoever,” he said.

During the press conference, Trump’s presidential election opponent, Joe Biden, tweeted: “Donald Trump and his team seem to understand how critical testing is to their own safety. So why are they insisting that it’s unnecessary for the American people?”

[The Guardian]

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