WASHINGTON: The United States accused the World Health Organization on Thursday of putting politics first by ignoring Taiwanese alerts about China’s coronavirus outbreak and laying its case against the United Nations body.
President Donald Trump threatened to cut US support for the World Health Organization, which is at the forefront of combating the pandemic that has infected over 1.5 million people around the world.
Further explaining Trump’s case, the State Department said that the WHO was too late to sound the alarm about COVID-19, showed too much deference to China and asked why it did not seek 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 dating back to 2016.
The WHO’s actions have “cost time and lives,” said the spokeswoman.
Taiwan, which has managed to avoid a major outbreak given its proximity and links to China, warned the WHO of human-to-human transmission on 31 December, Vice President Chen Chien-Jen said.
Chen, an epidemiologist, told the Financial Times that Taiwanese doctors had heard that colleagues in Wuhan, the Chinese metropolis and epicenter for the virus, were getting sick but the WHO was not working to validate the report.
China sees Taiwan – a self-governing democracy in which the vanquished nationalists of the mainland fled in 1949 – as a region awaiting reunification and trying to remove it from all foreign organisations.
The State Department also took the WHO to task for initially violating Trump’s ban on Chinese visitors, claiming its stance had “global consequences” in delaying action.
Most of the world has since followed the lead from the US to limit travel amid Trump’s early criticism, for whom a stern line on immigration is a signature problem.
Critics say Trump’s sudden threats to the WHO amounts to a political ploy to find an international scapegoat as he comes under criticism for not doing enough to plan and monitor COVID-19, which has killed more than 14,800 people in the US.
Trump himself said in January that the U.S. had the coronavirus “totally under control” and predicted that it will go away as temperatures rise in April.
Director-general of the WHO, Ethiopian doctor Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said Wednesday that he had been subjected to personal attacks including racial slurs and that Taiwan had been singled out, which requested an apology.