Timeline: Trump’s fight with WHO over coronavirus handling

US president withdraws funding for the UN health body after weeks of escalating attacks for ‘mismanaging’ the pandemic.

Donald Trump and WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus [Reuters]
The US contributed nearly $900m to the WHO's budget for 2018-19, according to the agency's website [Reuters]

United States President Donald Trump has decided to suspend millions of dollars in funding to the World Health Organization (WHO), accusing the UN body of “severely mismanaging” the coronavirus pandemic.

The US, where almost 26,000 people have died from COVID-19, is the largest single contributor to the WHO.


It gives the body about $500m each year, with $116m mandated by the UN and about another $400m in voluntary payments.

The move on Tuesday follows weeks of escalating attacks by Trump on the Geneva-based UN health agency as he has sought to deflect scrutiny of his own administration’s response to the outbreak.

Here is a timeline:

January 30 –  WHO issues travel guidelines

An emergency committee on the coronavirus outbreak convened by the WHO chief in Geneva concluded that travel or trade restrictions were not recommended at the time. 

January 31: Trump blocks travel from China

Trump issued an executive order blocking entry to the US from anyone who has been in China in the last 14 days. It does not apply to US residents and family members or spouses of US residents or citizens.

China’s government criticised the measure, which it said contradicted the WHO’s appeal to avoid travel bans, and slammed “unfriendly comments” made by the US that Beijing was failing to cooperate.

“Just as the WHO recommended against travel restrictions, the US rushed to go in the opposite way. Certainly not a gesture of goodwill,” said foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying.

March 13 – Trump declares national emergency

As confirmed cases increased in the US, Trump declared a national emergency, granting access to $50bn in funding for US states and territories.

The move allows for waivers for doctors and hospitals in their response to the virus.

March 24: Trump says he wants US to open by April 12

Despite warnings from health experts, Trump said on Fox News he would “love to have the country opened up, and just raring to go by Easter”.

“Our people want to return to work … The cure cannot be worse than the problem,” the president tweeted. 

April 7 – Trump threatens to freeze WHO funding

As the deaths in the US surpassed China’s official death toll, Trump faced increased scrutiny about his reponse to the crisis. 

He denied seeing a memo by a senior US official, Peter Navarro, warning of mass casualties and economic devastation from the new coronavirus, months before the pandemic began inflicting thousands of deaths in the US.

Trump threatens to slash US funding to World Health Organization

“I read about it maybe a day, two days ago,” Trump said when asked about the January 30 memo sent by the White House trade adviser at a news conference. “It was a recommendation that he had, I think he told certain people on the staff, but it didn’t matter. I didn’t see it.”

Attempting to shift the blame, Trump threatened to freeze US funding to WHO, saying it “missed the call” and was “very China-centric” in its approach.

April 8 – WHO officials deny accusations, Trump continues attack

WHO officials denied it was “China-centric” and said the acute phase of a pandemic was not the time to cut funding.

WHO General-Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus also urged world leaders not to politicise the situation. 

“The focus of all political parties should be to save their people. Please don’t politicise this virus. It exploits the differences you have at the national level,” he said at a press briefing in Geneva.

President Trump criticises WHO: Agency ‘unfair’ to US

Trump again fired back at the UN agency, accusing its head of initially minimising the coronavirus outbreak and then siding with China in its response.

“He [Tedros] would have been much better serving the people he’s supposed to serve if they gave a correct analysis. Everything was China-centric: ‘Everything is going to be fine, no human-to-human [transmission]’,” said Trump.

“He wanted me to keep the borders open. I closed the border to spite him, it was a hard decision to make at the time. We made a decision against the World Health Organization.”

April 14 – Trump cuts WHO funding

Trump announced that he had instructed his administration to temporarily halt funding to WHO over its handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Speaking at the White House on Tuesday, Trump said the WHO “failed in its basic duty and it must be held accountable”. He said it promoted China’s “disinformation” about the virus that likely led to a wider outbreak.

The WHO did not immediately comment.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said it was “not the time” to be reducing funds to the WHO or any other organisation fighting the pandemic.

“Now is the time for unity and for the international community to work together in solidarity to stop this virus and its shattering consequences,” Guterres said in a statement.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies

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