U.S. SCIENTISTS at the World Health Organisation (WHO) headquarters gave U.S. President Donald Trump “real-time updates” about the emergence and spread of coronavirus in China in late 2019, undermining his claims that the organisation covered up information in the early stages of what became a pandemic.
More than a dozen health experts working for the WHO in Geneva relayed regular information to Mr Trump about COVID-19, U.S. and international officials have confirmed.
The Washington Post has reported that many of the U.S. team of researchers, physicians and public-health experts worked for the centres for disease control & prevention (CDC) at the global health body and were based there when the virus was first discovered in the Chinese city of Wuhan.
Senior health officials appointed by Mr Trump were engaged in regular consultation with the WHO as the situation unfolded and relayed regular “real-time updates,” officials have confirmed.
It casts doubts over the president’s fanciful claims that both the WHO and China colluded to cover up the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic, which many see as a smokescreen created to divert attention from Mr Trump’s own failings.
The president sparked global condemnation last week when he announced that the U.S. would suspend its funding of the WHO over the body’s handling of the crisis, accusing it of “getting it wrong” and parroting Chinese reports.
But an unnamed CDC official said that Mr Trump was briefed “days in advance” of WHO reports over the spread of coronavirus but consistently ignored the warnings, he prioritising the country’s economy over the health of the people.
Dr Robert Kadlec, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ (HHS) lead on disaster response, met the White House’s coronavirus task force on February 21. The group concluded that social-distancing measures, including school closures, would need to take place soon. But Mr Trump is reported to have instead listened to business leaders who warned of the impact on the U.S. economy and “pushed back” on the advice on social distancing.
HHS Secretary Alex Azar was one of those consulted by CDC officials. But he was reportedly told to “stop panicking” by Mr Trump when he warned of a potential pandemic.
Mr Azar planned to establish surveillance in five cities at a cost of $100 million (£81.4m) but the CDC could not issue working tests.
The U.S. president initially praised China for its openness and transparency over COVID-19, going as far as to thank Chinese President Xi Jingping on behalf of the people of the U.S.
But as it became apparent that the situation was spiralling out of control in the U.S. due to Mr Trump’s failure to adequately prepare, he turned his ire on Beijing, launching a wave of anti-China propaganda.