Time to point the finger will come later, says Trudeau as Trump calls WHO

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WASHINGTON –
Now is not the time to point the finger or blame COVID-19, the Canadian federal government said Wednesday after Donald Trump, his reelection hopes hijacked by a deadly global pandemic, turned his populist canons against the Organization world health.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has refused to be drawn into the Trump administration’s latest political offensive, insisting that his Liberal government focus for the moment on helping Canadians avoid falling ill.

“This is our goal right now – what can we do now, what should we do in the coming weeks, how can we rely on experts in international institutions and in partner countries around the world to make recommendations alongside our national experts on what we need to do now, “said Trudeau.

“We will have plenty of time to move forward to reflect on the challenges we have faced in the past. We must learn and progress as quickly as possible. “

In the United States, where the epidemic of the virus has killed more than 26,000 people, sickened more than 600,000 people and plunged the economy into suspended animation, Trump accuses the United Nations agency of having botched his initial response to the epidemic in China and to cover the magnitude of the emerging threat.

He ordered a halt to funding – the United States is WHO’s biggest financial benefactor, providing hundreds of millions of dollars each year – pending the results of a review to determine why “credible reports That clashed with official Chinese accounts the government has not been properly investigated, and why the first evidence of human-to-human transmission of the new coronavirus in China has been overlooked.

But the president is not the only one to call the agency: Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer wants Trudeau to explain why Canada is so dependent on an organization so closely linked to China.

“We have serious concerns about the accuracy of information from WHO,” said Scheer. “It is up to this government to explain why it based so many of its decisions on the WHO. “

The Associated Press reported on Wednesday that six days passed between the time when the Chinese authorities were aware of the real dangers of the virus and the public warning, a moment which probably allowed the epidemic to turn into a fully-fledged global public health disaster.

WHO has utterly failed in denouncing China’s lack of transparency, said the president – although he neglected to acknowledge his own public statements in January thanking President Xi Jinping and praising the country’s efforts in the fight against it the virus.

On paper, the decision is classic: Trump: attack a multilateral institution with a mixed track record, close ties to the rules-based international order, and disproportionate financial dependence on US dollars. In the past, he has also targeted the World Trade Organization and likes to boast of shaming his NATO colleagues by spending millions more on the military alliance.

Countries around the world hailed the timing of the decision, if not the decision itself, with condemnation. Microsoft founder Bill Gates is now a global health philanthropist whose foundation rivals the United States as one of the agency’s main contributors.

“The world needs WHO more than ever,” Gates wrote on Twitter.

Trudeau said Trump had not asked Canada to adjust its contributions to WHO – $ 17.5 million for 2020, paid in full, as well as an additional $ 15 million since February 11 specifically for the response from the agency to COVID-19, said a government spokesperson. In comparison, the United States pays more than $ 500 million a year in annual assessments.

This is money well spent on a “very precious tool” under normal circumstances, said Health Minister Patty Hajdu – but especially during a serious viral epidemic.

“Canada appreciates the work of the World Health Organization, and we continue to commit to contributing to the work of the organization,” said Hajdu, citing his ability to bring together countries, scientists and researchers to find short and long term solutions. .

“Any response to COVID-19, and in fact to any global outbreak, is one where countries have the capacity to work together, pool their research and really share their efforts to manage these outbreaks – will perform again and again and again. “

Last week Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of WHO, urged the world to resist the temptation to politicize the pandemic, a message that has clearly gone unheeded in Washington.

“When we are divided, the virus exploits the cracks between us,” Tedros said on Wednesday, expressing “regret” for Trump’s decision.

“Without a doubt, areas for improvement will be identified and there will be lessons to be learned for all of us. But for now, our goal – my goal – is to stop this virus and save lives. “

Tedros also thanked the countries that expressed support for the organization and promised to maintain their financial commitments. “Solidarity”, he said, “is the rule of the game to defeat COVID-19”.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on April 15, 2020.

– With files from Jim Bronskill and Teresa Wright in Ottawa

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