'Perhaps they knew': Trump goes on a tirade accusing the World Health Organization of a 'cover-up' and 'mismanagement' of the coronavirus outbreak
- President Donald Trump suggested on Wednesday that the World Health Organization engaged in a "cover-up" to conceal the spread of the coronavirus. He did not present any evidence.
- Trump announced this week that the US will cut its funding for the WHO. On Wednesday, he said the funding freeze will remain in place "pending a review of the organization's cover-up and mismanagement" of the outbreak.
- He later suggested without giving evidence that the WHO purposely advised against travel restrictions while knowing about the severity of the crisis.
- "That was a horrible, tragic mistake," he said. "Or perhaps they knew. I'm sure they didn't know the gravity of it. But perhaps they knew. Because if they knew the gravity, that would be an even worse offense."
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President Donald Trump spent a significant portion of his coronavirus briefing on Wednesday excoriating the World Health Organization and falsely accusing it of covering up the disease's outbreak.
The Trump administration announced on Tuesday that the United States will freeze the approximately $400 million it contributes to the WHO's budget. On Wednesday, Trump said the decision will be in place "pending a review of the organization's cover-up and mismanagement of the coronavirus outbreak."
The president has accused the WHO of botching its initial response to the pandemic by failing to challenge the Chinese government's early accounts of how the virus was spreading.
During Wednesday's briefing, he also accused the organization of being "angry" when the US suspended some travel from China on January 31.
"Over the objections of the WHO we took decisive action and early life-saving action to suspend travel from China," Trump said. "They didn't want to do it. They were angry that we did it. Took them a long time to realize what was going but I have a feeling they knew exactly what was going on."
The WHO declared the coronavirus, which causes a disease known as COVID-19, an international public health emergency on January 30. Thirty-six countries, including the US, had imposed travel restrictions by February 2.
Samantha Kiernan, a research associate on global health, economics, and development at the Council on Foreign Relations, told FactCheck.org that the data shows the US was "neither behind nor ahead of the curve in terms of imposing travel restrictions against China."
Trump continued his tirade against the WHO on Wednesday, saying without evidence that it "took them a long time to realize what was going on, but I have a feeling they knew exactly what was going on."
"Tragically, other nations put their trust in the WHO and they didn't do any formal [travel] ban. WHO's guidance had failed to control their borders at a very crucial phase, quickly unleashing the contagion around the world," Trump said. "That was a horrible, tragic mistake. Or perhaps they knew. I'm sure they didn't know the gravity of it. But perhaps they knew. Because if they knew the gravity, that would be an even worse offense."
There is no evidence that the WHO purposely concealed the severity of the coronavirus outbreak.
Trump, meanwhile, has drawn heightened criticism after media reports revealed that the president was repeatedly warned - by intelligence officials, federal agencies, and White House officials - about an impending pandemic, but failed to take early action.
The Trump administration has also slashed funding for multiple public health programs since 2018 and dramatically altered its messaging on the crisis over the last several months.
Trump's decision to cut funding for the WHO also drew widespread backlash.
"Now is 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," António Guterres, the secretary-general of the United Nations, said in a statement.
Democratic lawmakers accused the president of scapegoating the WHO to distract from his own shortcomings in addressing the crisis.
"This is another case, as I have said, of the President's ineffective response, that 'a weak person, a poor leader, takes no responsibility. A weak person blames others,'" House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said. "This decision is dangerous, illegal and will be swiftly challenged."
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