Washington—US President Donald Trump on Tuesday formally started the withdrawal of the United States from the World Health Organization (WHO), making good on threats to deprive the United Nations body of its top funding source over its response to the coronavirus.
Public health advocates and Trump’s political opponents voiced outrage at the departure from the Geneva-based body, which leads the global fight on maladies from polio to measles to mental health—as well as COVID-19, at a time when cases have again been rising in the United States and around the world.
After threatening to suspend the $400 million in annual US contributions and then announcing a withdrawal, the Trump administration has formally sent notice to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, a State Department spokesperson said.
The withdrawal of the key WHO founding member is effective in one year—July 6, 2021.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus responded to the news with a one-word tweet—“Together!”—as he linked to a discussion by US health experts on how leaving the global body could impede efforts to prevent future pandemics.
In line with conditions set when the WHO was set up in 1948, the United States can leave within one year but must meet its remaining assessed financial obligations, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
‘Emerging evidence’ of airborne virus
The WHO pointed Tuesday to “emerging evidence” that the coronavirus might spread by air further than previously thought, and warned the pandemic was still accelerating.
The WHO said it would put out a new scientific brief within days, after an international group of scientists concluded the virus could travel far beyond two meters.
The two-meter physical distancing guideline has been a major element in the fight against COVID-19, which has killed more than 538,000 people and infected over 11.6 million since it emerged in China last December.
Tedros said the pandemic was showing no signs of slowing down, after 400,000 new cases were reported over the weekend. It took 12 weeks for the world to reach the first 400,000 COVID-19 cases.
Death tally rises to 539k
The novel coronavirus has killed at least 539,620 people since the outbreak emerged in China last December, according to a tally from official sources compiled by the Agence France-Presse on Tuesday.
At least 11,693,770 cases of coronavirus have been registered in 196 countries and territories. Of these, at least 6,145,500 are now considered recovered.
Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro—who repeatedly flouted virus containment measures and minimised the risk—said Tuesday he had tested positive for COVID-19 (see related story on B2—Editors).
The WHO sent him their best wishes for a speedy and full recovery.
“It brings home for us all the reality of this virus: no-one is special,” said the WHO’s emergencies director Michael Ryan. “Whether we’re prince or pauper, we’re equally vulnerable.”
Surge in medical product trafficking
Meanwhile, the UN on Wednesday warned that lives are at risk because of a surge in the trafficking of substandard masks, sanitizers and other medical products.
Organized criminal groups—exploiting fears and uncertainties surrounding the virus—are providing such products to cater to a sudden surge in demand and the supply gap, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said in a report.
UNODC said it expected criminals to shift their focus to vaccine-related trafficking once one was developed.
Fraud and scams as well as cyberattacks targeting critical infrastructure have followed the spread of the virus, it added.
“Health and lives are at risk with criminals exploiting the COVID-19 crisis to cash in on public anxiety and increased demand for personal protective equipment and medications,” UNODC Executive Director Ghada Waly said in a statement.