US President Donald Trump said he would halt funding to the World Health Organization as criticism of his administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic mounts.
Trump said he was instructing his administration to “halt funding” pending an investigation into the organisation’s role “in severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus”.
It’s an accusation that Trump himself has been subject to given the mounting evidence that he consistently neglected to take the outbreak seriously.
Playing down the outbreak
The US president is thought to have first publicly spoken about the coronavirus outbreak at the end of January when he said in an interview with CNBC that the US had it “totally under control”.
“It’s going to be just fine,” the US president said on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos shortly after the country confirmed its first case of the coronavirus.
Trump had failed to grasp a warning from his own secretary of health and human services about the threat of a pandemic before then, according to reports published in the New York Times and the Associated Press.
Trump has denied reports that the health secretary warned him.
The last few weeks of January, meanwhile, were marked by a Senate impeachment trial concerning Trump’s conduct with Ukraine.
Trump’s sole concrete action against the coronavirus outbreak was to bar travellers from China on January 31.
But even in late February, Trump continued to publicly state that the US was ready for the pandemic, with few policies in place to protect Americans.
“But we’re very, very ready for this, for anything — whether it’s going to be a breakout of larger proportions or whether or not we’re — you know, we’re at that very low level, and we want to keep it that way,” he said.
At that February 27th White House briefing, Trump compared COVID-19 to flu, stating that he was surprised to learn that thousands of people died of flu every year.
The next day he would refer to the virus as a “hoax” of his political opponents at a political rally.
Trump admitted in early March that he did not want a cruise ship to dock in the US because he didn’t want the number of confirmed coronavirus in the country cases to rise.
“No. No. No. I’m saying whatever it is that takes precedence over the numbers. No, I like the numbers. I would rather have the numbers stay where they are,” Trump said.
Shortly after, the World Health Organization classified the outbreak as a global pandemic. Trump halted flights to Europe but did not issue guidelines on other mitigation strategies such as social distancing until March 16.
Testing shortages in the United States
One of the big early mishaps in the US coronavirus response was a lack of testing, something that was decried vehemently in the press in March.
Early testing kits distributed by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in early February had a reagent that gave inconclusive results, officials later revealed.
The country’s top infectious disease expert Dr Anthony Fauci told CNN in March: “It’s unfortunate that it got off to a slow start. There was some missteps with regard to the CDC’s test. They had a problem. They fixed the problem.”
But the damage had been done, in many ways. For most of February, there were fewer than 100 coronavirus tests per day, according to the CDC’s website.
It wasn’t until the second week of March that the US began to have the capacity to test thousands of people per day.
A fight over ‘re-opening’ the country
Trump has said that his decision to halt travel from China was an early action that proved he reacted to the crisis. He has said that the World Health Organization opposed that decision, as part of his attack on the body.
The international organisation’s experts said it is the choice of member states whether or not to issue travel restrictions but that there must be a public health justification for those restrictions.
The federal guidelines on social distancing weren’t put in place until March 16th when there were nearly 4,000 confirmed cases.
But by the end of the month, Trump was already talking about lifting them.
“Ultimately the goal is to ease the guidelines and open things up to very large sections of our country as we near the end of our historic battle with the invisible enemy,” he said as US cases continued to skyrocket.
He said he hoped to “we can do this by Easter” saying it would be a “great thing” that the government was “working very hard” to make happen.
Trump said that he was making a decision over whether or not to reopen the country – something legal experts and state officials were quick to correct him on, pointing out that the federal government issues guidelines but does not have the power to order people to stay at home.
Those orders came from state governors and city mayors across the United States instead.
The United States has since passed every other country to become the most impacted with more than 600,000 cases and more than 27,000 deaths.