Foreign Policy Association  |  January 15, 2021

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On July 7, 2020, President Donald Trump notified the United Nations of his intent to withdraw the U.S. from the World Health Organization (WHO). With the Covid-19 pandemic raging in the U.S. and around the world, the President asserted that WHO had failed in its duty to warn the world early on about the dangers posed by the new coronavirus because the agency and its Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, are too “China-centric”. Administration allies, like Senator Rick Scott (R-FL), accused WHO of “helping Communist China cover up a global pandemic.” Leading global health experts have overwhelmingly decried the U.S. decision to withdraw from membership and to withhold financial support from WHO. Pointing to numerous factual inaccuracies in the Trump administration’s account of events, they argue that Trump’s attacks on WHO are a blatant attempt to deflect blame from the administration’s own failures to check the spread of the virus within the U.S. They point out that WHO declared a “public health emergency of international concern” (PHEIC) on January 30, one month after the first reported cases, and at a time when there were only 83 reported cases and no deaths outside China. And they remind critics that Tedros and WHO consistently warned governments to “act now” to urgently escalate social distancing, testing, contact tracing, and isolation in the face of “this very grave threat”—warnings that many governments chose to ignore until it was too late.

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