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Trump threat succeeds in enabling WHO probe

US President's threats to cut off funding succeeded in persuading WHO member states to endorse a resolution calling for an independent evaluation. However, tensions between Moscow, Beijing and Washington may reach a fever pitch soon.

WHO member states agreed Tuesday to launch an investigation into its coronavirus response, after US President Donald Trump threatened to quit the UN agency and branded it a “puppet of China”.

Trump has been locked in a bitter spat with Beijing, alleging it covered up the initial COVID-19 outbreak in central China late last year before the disease unleashed death and economic devastation across the planet. Trump’s tirade has intensified after the sudden ballooning of cases in the United States, which total 1.55 million and currently account for just over 33% of the global total.

Under pressure at home in the United States, which has far more virus cases and deaths than any other country, Trump has also targeted the WHO with accusations that it failed to do enough to combat the initial spread of the disease.

“Puppet of China”: Trump flays the WHO over mishandling of the virus situation

“They’re a puppet of China, they’re China-centric to put it nicer,” he said at the White House on Monday, before threatening to make permanent a temporary freeze on US funding to the body.

Beijing and Moscow hit out at Trump in response, accusing him of trying to damage the WHO for political ends. Beijing and Moscow have been repeatedly against the United State’s threats to cut off funding for the WHO. Meanwhile Donald Trump justified this by claiming that the USA contributes the most to the WHO while China had to contribute less because it is categorised as a “developing country”.

Earlier, Donald Trump also wrote a letter to the WHO Director General Dr Tedros, asking the WHO to mend its ways or else face a contribution cut from the United States within 30 days.

Read more: Trump brands WHO a “puppet of China”

EU-led resolution for WHO evaluation adopted by US and China

With the row threatening the global response to the pandemic, WHO countries adopted a resolution calling for an “impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation” of the international response, and the measures taken by the agency.

Both the United States and China voted for the resolution, brought by the European Union at the WHO’s annual assembly, despite earlier fears that the tensions might make a full consensus impossible.

More than 318,000 people have died of COVID-19 out of over 4.8 million infections worldwide since its emergence, and governments are scrambling to contain the virus while seeking ways to resuscitate their economies.

After WHO, Trump tops it off with incorrect medical advice

Trump turned the screws on the WHO on Monday — first in a press conference and then in a letter to the head of the organisation — giving it 30 days to show “substantive improvements” that demonstrated its “independence” from Beijing.

The letter to Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus threatened to permanently freeze US funding. The US is by far the biggest contributor.

As he launched his latest attack, Trump also dropped a bombshell saying he was taking hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malaria drug that his own government’s experts have said is not suitable for fighting the coronavirus.

Read more: Coronavirus: Trump says he is taking unproven drug hydroxychloroquine

“I take a pill every day,” said the president, adding that he is using it because he has “heard a lot of good stories”.

Growing rift between Moscow, Beijing and Washington over WHO

Beijing has furiously denied the US allegations that it played down the virus threat, and accused Washington on Tuesday of trying to “smear China”.

“The US tries to use China as an issue to shirk responsibility and bargain over its international obligations to the WHO,” foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said.

Earlier, a Chinese official also accused the USA of spreading rumours to malign the image of China in the national community. US officials including the President have repeatedly accused China of having let the virus get to the havoc wreaking proportions it has hitherto – a charge that China furiously denies.

Russia also denounced Trump’s threat.

“We are against breaking everything there is for the sake of one state’s political or geopolitical preferences,” deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov was quoted as saying by news agency Interfax.

Read more: Trump asks WHO to mend its ways or face funding cut in 30 days

The EU backed the WHO too, saying it was “not the time for finger pointing” — putting Brussels once again in opposition to Washington when it comes to Trump’s treatment of international organisations.

‘Permanent damage’: World economy at a standstill

While the political row rages, countries around the world are trying to find a balance between bringing their economies back to life, and risking a second wave of the disease.

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the economy risks suffering “permanent damage” the longer the lockdown continues. US home-building meanwhile plunged by 30 percent.

Fresh data also showed the number of unemployed in Britain soared nearly 70 percent to 1.3 million in three months to March. In the United States, the number of people filing for unemployment is at an all-time high, with remedial measures, such as the $2trillion package planned by Trump, being feared to not be enough.

The economic damage caused by the virus has led to unprecedented emergency stimulus measures by governments and central banks, and the latest came from Europe where France and Germany proposed a fund worth 500 billion euros.

The path back to normality is slow, however. Football players in England’s Premier League began returned to limited training on Tuesday, but the league suffered a blow when it emerged there had been six positive tests among players.

Lower Carbon emissions – a silver lining? Not quite

One effect of the lockdowns has been a drop in emissions from fossil fuels that cause global warming, with a 17 percent reduction globally in carbon pollution in April and a predicted drop of seven percent in 2020, research in Nature Climate Change said Tuesday.

Read more: Blessing in disguise: Coronavirus shows its first positive effect

However this would still “make barely a dent in the ongoing build-up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere,” said Richard Betts, head of climate impacts research at Britain’s Met Office Hadley Centre.

COVID-19: searching for a vaccine amid transnational public health disorder

Experts have warned that the social distancing measures that have affected more than half of humanity will remain necessary until a vaccine or viable treatment is found.

The global race to find a vaccine got a boost Monday when results from a trial by US biotech firm Moderna sparked optimism.

In China, meanwhile, scientists at Peking University have said they are developing a drug that can help stop the pandemic by using antibodies that can neutralise the virus.

But the virus continues on its destructive path, with many poorer nations now seeing a dramatic rise in infections even as the hotspot in Europe eases.

In Russia, the number of coronavirus cases hit nearly 300,000 on Tuesday after Moscow said the virus situation had stabilised. The Kremlin also said Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin is returning to his duties after fighting off the coronavirus.

But other parts of the world — especially developing countries — are only just starting to feel the full force of the virus.

Read more: Chinese lab claims cure for coronavirus without vaccine

Already, Brazil has overtaken Britain, recording the third-highest number of infections in the world with around 255,000 confirmed cases.

Maria Nunes Sinimbu, a retired teacher from Manaus, the biggest city in the Brazilian Amazon, said COVID-19 had killed five of her family members, including three of her 12 children.

“People should be more careful with this disease. It’s silent,” said the 76-year-old.

Coronavirus: the human cost hitherto

As of May 2020, the global number of people infected with COVID-19 is in excess of 4.63 million with more than 297,000 deaths worldwide. A point encouragement is that 1.66 million people have recovered from the disease so far.

AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk