Medical experts from the U.S. working at the World Health Organization were sending information about the emerging coronavirus outbreak in China late last year directly to Trump administration officials, The Washington Post reported, as the president tries to shift the blame for his shambolic COVID-19 response to WHO.
More than a dozen U.S. experts, mostly a regular rotation of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention staffers assigned to work at WHO’s headquarters in Geneva, provided real-time updates to CDC and administration officials in the U.S. — including Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, according to the Post.
President Donald Trump, facing widespread criticism for his government’s inadequate response to the pandemic, has attempted to shift blame, targeting the WHO and state governors. Last week, he announced the U.S. was freezing funding to WHO.
But Trump’s complaint that WHO’s early warnings about the coronavirus relied too heavily on China is undermined by the Post’s revelation that American experts were relaying information directly to his administration.
An HHS spokesperson told the Post the Americans assigned to WHO were not “decision-makers.” The spokesperson also echoed Trump, saying that WHO’s “information was incorrect and relied too heavily on China.”
China, where the coronavirus outbreak originated, has come under growing scrutiny for underreporting its COVID-19 cases and distorting aspects of its response. Trump, who often touts his relationship with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, initially accepted Xi’s claims and praised the country’s handling of the outbreak.
In recent weeks, Trump has lashed out at the WHO, expressing anger that it did not praise his decision to partially restrict travel from China. The president has repeatedly held up the restriction as an example of his “decisive action.”
“So much death has been caused by their mistakes,” Trump said at a news briefing last week, claiming without evidence that WHO’s reliance on information from China “likely caused a twentyfold increase in cases worldwide.”
On Saturday, Trump again assailed WHO, claiming “we’re just finding more and more problems,” without specifying any of them.
After Trump criticized WHO earlier this month, the organization’s director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, urged world leaders not to politicize the response to the coronavirus.
“The focus of all political parties should be to save their people,” Tedros said. “Please don’t politicize this virus. If you don’t want many more body bags, then you refrain from politicizing it.”
Trump’s attacks on WHO have been criticized by world leaders and U.S. politicians from both parties.
His administration’s handling of the pandemic also has been widely condemned. Trump gutted White House programs dedicated to preparing for pandemics. And once the coronavirus began spreading, WHO and U.S. intelligence agencies repeatedly warned about the threat. Even Trump’s top trade official alerted the White House of the danger in January and February, but the president downplayed the virus and failed to act swiftly.
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