Global efforts to join forces against the coronavirus faltered Wednesday after Donald Trump halted funding for the World Health Organization, igniting criticism from leaders who are urging solidarity in the face of a crippling economic crisis.
The US president’s shock move came as a patchwork of countries experiment with loosening lockdown measures, ushering the planet into a new and uncertain phase of a pandemic that has killed more than 125,000 people worldwide and infected at least two million.
In Europe, Denmark became the first country on the badly-hit continent to start reopening schools, while Finland lifted a travel blockade on the Helsinki region.
Italy and Spain have also allowed some businesses to restart after signs both are finally flattening the curve following weeks of punishing death tolls.
But as leaders launch into delicate debates of how to jump-start economies without triggering new waves of infection, Trump rattled efforts at global solidarity by ramping up his blame-game with the WHO, the UN’s health agency.
The president ordered the US to freeze funding pending a review into the WHO’s role in “severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus”.
Trump charged that the outbreak could have been contained “with very little death” if the WHO had accurately assessed the situation in China, where the disease broke out late last year.
Leaders around the globe fired back at the US president, who had initially downplayed the dangers of a virus that has now killed more people in the United Sates than any other country on the planet.
Beijing warned that the move would “undermine the international cooperation” at a “critical moment” in the pandemic.
Trump also earned a rebuke from UN chief Antonio Guterres as well as entrepreneur Bill Gates who tweeted that cutting funding was “as dangerous as it sounds”.
The European Union’s foreign policy chief was similarly disapproving.
“There is no reason justifying this move at a moment when their efforts are needed more than ever to help contain and mitigate the coronavirus pandemic,” Josep Borrell said in a tweet.
And African Union chief Moussa Faki Mahamat condemned Trump’s decision as “deeply regrettable”.
Trump’s controversial attack came the world is facing down a looming economic catastrophe, which the International Monetary Fund has said could see $9 trillion wiped from the global economy in the worst downturn since the 1930s Great Depression.
Underlining the point, Europe’s powerhouse Germany has been in recession since March, the government said Wednesday.
The virus-hit Chinese economy, second only to the US, probably contracted for the first time in around three decades in the first quarter, according to an AFP poll of economists.
Meanwhile finance ministers from the G20 — the world’s richest countries — held virtual talks Wednesday about a possible debt mororatorium for poor states struggling to weather the costs of the pandemic.