How the ‘chief covidiot’ has blocked world health unity with WHO freeze

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President Trump
President Donald Trump ... deflecting the blame for the US coronavirus pandemic crisis onto WHO. Image: Al Jazeera screenshot

PACIFIC PANDEMIC DIARY: By David Robie, who also blogs at Café Pacific

Donald Trump’s sabre-rattling freeze on funding for the World Health Organisation at a time when many countries are pulling together for a global response to the coronavirus pandemic has surely earned him the epithet of the “world’s chief covidiot”.

The US President’s efforts at deflecting the blame for his country’s national public health crisis by pointing the finger at WHO and announcing that Washington would pull funding as the largest donor has shocked the world, triggering widespread condemnation from leaders and public health experts.

The impact of this shock decision is bound to be felt in the Pacific region with some countries and territories clinging precariously to their Covid-19-free status, while others – such as the US territory Guam, New Caledonia and French Polynesia – have already become hotspots.

ASIA PACIFIC REPORT CORONAVIRUS UPDATES – DAY 22

American funding to WHO provided more than 15 percent of the international body’s 2018-19 budget of $4.4 billion.

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While Richard Horton, the editor-in-chief of the Lancet medical journal, denounced Trump’s decision as “a crime against humanity” and an “appalling betrayal” of every scientist, health worker and citizen – and of global solidarity, the second largest WHO donor, Microsoft’s Bill Gates of the Gates Foundation, described the move “as dangerous as it sounds”.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says it is “not the time” to cut funding or to question errors.

“Once we have finally turned the page on this epidemic, there must be a time to look back fully to understand how such a disease emerged and spread its devastation so quickly across the globe, and how all those involved reacted to the crisis,” he said.

Former New Zealand prime minister and ex-UN Development Programme Administrator Helen Clark accused Trump of “shooting the messenger” at a critical time for the world.

“I can’t think of anything more foolish in the middle of a global pandemic which has gone beyond being a health crisis to being a full-blown economic and social crisis,” Clark told RNZ Checkpoint in an interview.

Three-month review
Rather pointless right now when most countries are in crisis.

Trump ordered the blocking of funds pending a three-month review of WHO’s role in allegedly “severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus”.

The president claimed that the pandemic could have been contained “with very little death” if the UN agency had accurately assessed the situation in China, where the virus outbreak began in the city of Wuhan late last year. He accused of WHO of having put too much faith in Beijing.

However, the US president had in the early stages regularly downplayed the dangers of this virus that has killed more than 128,000 people and infected more than 2 million worldwide, according to figures from Johns Hopkins University.

Trump praise for Xi
A President Trump tweet in praise of China. Image: Al Jazeera screenshot

He had declared it was all “under control” and as late as March 27 praised President Xi Jinping for China’s handling of the crisis. According to Politico, he tweeted or addressed rallies 15 times in praise of China.

The US has now become the hardest hit country with the highest death toll of more than 30,000 and 630,000 confirmed cases.

Ironically, the Johns Hopkins University figures – regarded as the most reliable – have been criticised for obscuring the degree of impact in the US by breaking up US death toll figures into individual state tallies.

Warning signs for PNG
The warning signs are there for countries such as Papua New Guinea which has already drawn alarm signals from Human Rights Watch, saying that a serious outbreak there would be “a catastrophe”. (Seven cases so far, with five in the past day – three of those in Western Province, which borders Papua).

“Even before the coronavirus pandemic, the fragile health system in Papua New Guinea was underfunded and overwhelmed, with high rates of malaria, tuberculosis, and diabetes among its population of more than eight million,” wrote an HRW associate director, Georgie Bright.

“Access to hospitals is extremely limited, with 80 percent of the population living outside urban centres. Prime Minister James Marape has acknowledged the country has only 500 doctors, less than 4000 nurses, and around 5000 beds in hospitals and health centres.

“The country reportedly has only 14 ventilators.”

However, Bright also acknowledged that hopefully there might be mitigating factors, such as large sections of its rural population living in remote mountainous villages in the highlands : “It could be that PNG will be spared the scale of the pandemic seen elsewhere such as Wuhan, a dense urban area with a mobile and older population.”

Fiji fever clinics
Fiji’s Ministry of Health says mobile fever clinics have been a success in identifying early symptoms and preventing the spread of Covid-19. Image: FBC/Fiji govt

Vanuatu (population almost 300,000) is another country with serious concerns of “disaster” with a possible outbreak, but Fiji (pop. About 900,000) – although it has 19 confirmed cases so far – seems to be holding its own with the success of its fever clinics that have tested more than 120,000 people in the capital of Suva so far.

Timor-Leste is also on the watch list with eight cases so far and a furore over the sacking of the acting health minister.

Pushed into the background by the relentless sad statistics and pandemic doomsday stories around the globe are some other issues in the Pacific that normally struggle to get an airing in mainstream media.

Growing concern for West Papua
Just over the porous 820 km jungle border from Papua New Guinea, are the two Melanesian provinces Papua and West Papua ruled under protest by Indonesia. Collectively known as West Papua, the region has become a growing public health concern as Indonesia appears headed for disaster.

The coronavirus pandemic is “exacerbating tensions” in West Papua and exposing the “shortcomings” of Jakarta government policy, laments a conflict watchdog group.

The Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC) says President Joko Widodo’s government needs to urgently appoint a senior official to “focus exclusively on Papua” province to ensure that immediate humanitarian needs and longer term issues are effectively addressed.

It has appealed for greater transparency and more support for the local Papuan administrations in coping with the spread of the virus.

“The virus arrived in Papua as tensions left over from deadly communal violence in August-September 2019 remained high, and pro-independence guerrillas from the Free Papua Organisation (Organisasi Papua Merdeka, OPM) were intensifying attacks in the central highlands.

“Papua’s major faultlines – indigenous vs migrant, central control vs local autonomy, independence movement vs the state – affected both how Papuans interpreted the pandemic and the central government’s response.”

The pandemic has also added new complications such as how many Papuans are “already portraying the virus as being brought in by non-Papuan migrants and the military”. As a result, “hostility and suspicion” are growing.

Jakarta Six
The Jakarta Six (from left): Issay Wenda, Charles Kossay, Arina Elopere, Surya Anta, Ambrosius Mulait and Dano Tabuni – pictured on December 19, 2019. Image: Tempo/Antara

‘Jakarta six’ episode
Another episode happened in Jakarta this week that ought to have focused attention on the ongoing human rights struggle for Papuans yet was barely noticed in mainstream media in Australia and New Zealand.

A hearing about the trial of six Papuan activists – known as the “Jakarta Six” – will now be held online or long-distance amid the enforcement of large scale social restrictions to contain the coronavirus pandemic.

The accused – five men and a woman – are Paulus Suryanta Ginting, Charles Kossay, Ambrosius Mulait, Isay Wenda, Anes Tabuni and Arina Elopere. They were arrested by police for flying the Morning Star independence flag during a protest action demanding a referendum for Papua in front of the State Palace on August 28 last year.

The hearings into the alleged makar (treason, subversion, rebellion) case have been changed since the coronavirus pandemic has hit Indonesia, particularly in Jakarta.

The team of lawyers defending the six had earlier asked the panel of judges to postpone the hearing. However, the judges refused the request but changed the mechanism for the hearing so that the defendants can remain in jail for the trial.

An Auckland sign during New Zealand’s four-week lockdown. Image: Al Jazeera screenshot

NZ’s ‘long road back’
Back in New Zealand, the four-week national lockdown has been going encouragingly well, it is into its last week with the debate now moving on to the “long road back” for the economy by relaxing controls – a little – and the manner of how this would be achieved. A decision will be announced next Monday.

The Ministry of Health statistics show just nine deaths so far – mostly elderly rest home patients – with a fairly stable 1386 cases, just 20 new ones announces yesterday that are eclipsed by the rate of recoveries, now up to 728.

In fact, according to the Washington Post’s Beijing bureau chief, New Zealander Anna Fifield, the country is not just on track to “flatten the curve” but to “squash” it.

Easter Bunny
An Easter Bunny called Jacinda. Image: Lufthansa FB

The last of 18,000 stranded German and European visitors and tourists seeking repatriation have now returned to their countries. The final Lufthansa Airbus flight had a sole incoming passenger – an Easter Bunny named Jacinda in honour of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern who has gained admiration for her courageous leadership, clear communication and kindness.

Not to mention the voluntary gesture of the prime minister, her cabinet and civil service managers to take a six-month 20 percent pay cut in solidarity with the “struggle that many New Zealanders are facing”.

This article was first published by Asia Pacific Report on April 16.

22 COMMENTS

  1. While I don’t think it is the right time for US to withdraw money, WHO has not protected the world from the pandemic and seemed to be turning into another well funded International rort of bureaucrats who spend more time networking and cosy chats, rather than doing their jobs which part of, is preventing pandemics.

    It is not a good look to be having cosy chats with Xi and minimising the outbreak, while China buy’s up the world’s PPE and most probably are selling it back to the world at inflated prices or favours and the net result is that a China origin virus, is destroying other countries economies with Covid.

    WHO, China leaders discuss next steps in battle against coronavirus outbreak
    https://www.who.int/news-room/detail/28-01-2020-who-china-leaders-discuss-next-steps-in-battle-against-coronavirus-outbreak

    China stockpiled more than 2 billion surgical masks and essential medical supplies, many of them from Australia, in a global panic buy.
    https://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/health/revealed-china-stockpiled-2-billion-face-masks-and-25m-medical-items/news-story/5304e5a5080bd4087e4a9be9de210b97

    Second company sent ‘90 tonnes’ of Australian medical supplies to China
    Exclusive video shows surgical masks at Perth airport being airfreighted to China last month during the peak of the country’s outbreak.
    https://www.news.com.au/finance/business/second-company-sent-90-tonnes-of-australian-medical-supplies-to-china/news-story/be74b7679d7c8cb910d0f34713b2f008

    Saying that, the world’s spies apparently alerted their governments to the activity and the world’s governments did nothing so it is not just WHO who did nothing.

    The world seem to have no issue challenging Trump but the world’s media seem too frightened to suggest compensation for the rest of the world for the virus originating in Wuhan…. Let alone challenge China, who are predicted to profit from the virus.

    It ain’t a co incidence the virus came from China, so did SARS, and so do a lot of toxic food killing innocent people, that is not regulated by it’s government which puts profits over people, unlike the rest of the world!!!

    In NZ we are exporting decent food to China and increasingly NZ supermarkets are importing in cheaper Chinese food that has a history of harmfulness… Chinese food is cheaper because corners are cut.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Food_safety_incidents_in_China

    Cracking down on China’s dangerous fake food sector
    World’s biggest producer and consumer a hotbed of industry fraud and malpractice and poses a threat to public health, says supply chain investigator Mitchell Weinberg
    https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/china-fake-food-sector-unlicensed-products-knock-offs-supply-chain-contamination-public-health-a7880341.html

    There is zero accountability for China’s role in the horrific food scandals and viruses that regularly occur and now being exported to everyone else by pro Beijing companies around the world.

  2. Bias much?
    Tell me how was Taiwan treated by the WHO? They don’t even recognise them as a country! Which country is putting such pressure on them? Not the US
    Trump has ONE major point regarding WHO, and that is it’s become a highly politicised organisation.
    Even before a pandemic was ‘finally’ announce by WHO who faced majored worldwide criticism for being far too slow in doing so…what was the WHO more concerned with? Alleged racism and Xenophobia (not sure that’s even in their purview) because some countries like the US wanted to close their borders fast! Faster than even NZ did….which maybe IF we had of done not a single case of Covid 19 may of entered in the first place THUS not requiring a lockdown at all!

  3. Some more balance,

    Robert Mugabe who destroyed Zimbabwe’s economy and health system was given the title of “goodwill ambassador” by the current conman leading the W.H.O.

    Says it all

    • Just because Trump is a narcissistic prick, doesn’t mean he is wrong about the WHO. Like every other part of the UN, it is long overdue for the scrap heap.

      • Not only is Trump wrong about WHO, it’s clear he is looking at scapegoats for his own incompetance. He’s picked on WHO and now he is sabrew-rattling against China.

        As Trump faces more and more growing criticism of his incompetence, he is lashing out to anywhere he thinks he can point the finger.

        To believe otherwise is to be an accomplice to Trump and identify with his dangerous narcissism.

  4. If a poxy $58m is going to tip over the WHO. They’ve got a bigger problem to worry about! Seriously?
    You cant allow this idiot to have a platform. Its time to ‘de-platform’ him.

  5. Funny how cigarettes are essential services in NZ

    Coronavirus: Cigarettes are essential, MBIE confirms
    https://www.stuff.co.nz/business/120654996/coronavirus-cigarettes-are-essential-mbie-confirms

    Water should be given away to China.

    NZ Government Secretly Funded Water Bottling Companies
    https://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PO1904/S00055/nz-government-secretly-funded-water-bottling-companies.htm

    We really have our health and economic priorities working for the people of NZ! Sarcasm.

  6. Electioneering.

    The sole purpose of discrediting WHO at this point in time is to distract from the highly ineffective performance of the US administration.

    US Electioneering at its worst…

    … mixed with some sprinkles of trying to defend (already lost?) territory of global hegemonic aspirations.

    WHO is an essential resource and plays a most important role for the health sector of South-East-Asia and the Pacific. Without WHO assistance many of these small nations would hardly have a chance to maintain or improve minimalist health standards.

    One aspect in the US mudslinging politics is probably also the fact that WHO is not a US-headquartered UN organization but has its central office in Switzerland. Non-US-centred UN organizations are usually more easily subject to all sorts of US denigration attempts.

    Which leads back to an idea by the 120 members’ Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) founded in 1961 by Indian, Indonesian and former Yugoslav leadership:

    ‘Replacing the UN Headquarter in New York with a more befitting location than the US.’

    Still sounds like good thinking.

  7. One thing this pandemic has shown is the total failure of supranational organisations like the UN/WHO and the EU. The USA gave $893 million to the WHO in ’18 ’19 plainly money that was completely wasted. When the shit hits the fan it’s every country for itself and if you’re waiting for the UN… you are screwed.

    • We need genuine international collaboration on defeating viruses not just drug companies patenting their wares and holding countries to ransom.

      • Right! The first strategic lesson learnt from the Covid-19 saga is: international cooperation is insufficient. The second strategic lessons is: focus on weakest and most sensitive target groups is inadequate.

    • What was the money used for in 2018 and 2019 which meant it was ‘completely wasted?’ What would you have done with the many?

  8. Hey mods, I’m all for freedom of opinion, but there comes a point on a left forum where letting people post demonstrably false claims as *fact* on behalf of super-rich politicians, becomes the equivalent of letting people squat over the communal cooking pot and drop a huge, stinking log in it before dinner. I’ll defend to the death anyone’s freedom to hold the *opinion* that Trump has managed the COVID-19 crisis well (despite copious evidence to the contrary), and to express that opinion. But blatantly false claims, for example that the US couldn’t choose to close its borders without the WHO declaring a pandemic (of course it could), not only contribute nothing to the discussion here, but their repetitive noise makes more fact-based discussion difficult. Some of the regulars here might make a habit of checking their facts if it was a well known TDB editorial policy that comments containing such demonstrably false claims were not published here. Just saying.

    I mean, you have noticed the growing rightward lean of the TDB comments section, despite the strongly left-leaning content of the blogs pieces themselves. Haven’t you? All the bluster from people who seem to think that what’s wrong with neoliberal capitalist is the liberalism bit, not the capitalism bit? You have noticed that fewer and fewer of the comments here seem to come from left organisers. Haven’t you?

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