The Latest: Trump criticized by EU for freezing WHO funding
The Latest on the coronavirus pandemic. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death.
TOP OF THE HOUR:
— China didn’t warn public of likely pandemic for 6 key days.
— The European Union criticizes U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to freeze WHO funding; Spokesman says China is “seriously concerned” about the decision.
— Spain reports spike in coronavirus cases for the first time in five days.
— New Zealand police share humorous videos about life during lockdown.
BRUSSELS — The European Union says US President Trump has “no reason” to freeze World Health Organization funding at this critical stage and called for measures to promote unity instead of division.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said that the 27-nation group “deeply” regrets the suspension of funds and the WHO is now “needed more than ever” to combat the pandemic.
Borrell said that “only by joining forces can we overcome this crisis that knows no borders.”
Even though the group has been traditional allies with the U.S. for decades, the EU has increasingly been critical of the Trump administration over the past years.
BEIJING — A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman says the country is “seriously concerned” about the U.S. government’s decision to suspend payment to the World Health Organization.
“As the most authoritative and professional international institution in the field of global public health security, the WHO plays an irreplaceable role in responding to the global public health crisis,” ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters at a daily briefing on Wednesday.
President Donald Trump said Tuesday that he was cutting off U.S. payments to the organization, accusing it of failing to do enough to stop the virus from spreading when it first surfaced in China.
“The WHO failed in its basic duty and must be held accountable,” Trump said at a briefing, adding that the U.S. would be reviewing the WHO’s actions to stop the virus before making any decision on resuming aid.
China wields major influence in the WHO, allowing it to elect its favored candidate Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus as director-general, blunt any criticism and block participation by rival Taiwan.
Zhao said the U.S. decision will “weaken the WHO’s capabilities and undermine international cooperation in fighting the epidemic. It will affect all countries in the world, including the US, especially those vulnerable to crisis.”
MADRID — Spain has recorded 523 new deaths attributed to the coronavirus in the past 24 hours while infections shot up again for the first time in five days.
Wednesday’s new 5,092 infections, or a 3% day-to-day increase, brought the total of confirmed cases to 177,633. The country’s overall death toll stood at 18,579, the world’s third-worst after the United States and Italy, Health Ministry data showed.
Spain has eased this week the conditions of Europe’s strictest lockdown, allowing manufacturing, construction and other nonessential activity in an attempt to cushion the economic impact of the pandemic.
The International Monetary Fund is forecasting a sharp recession for Spain this year, with its 1.2-trillion-euro (1.3-trillion-dollar) gross domestic product expected to shrink by 8% and unemployment to increase from 14% to 21% before a slow recovery in 2021.
Amid sharp criticism for its handling of the coronavirus crisis, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez on Wednesday told lawmakers that the government’s measures have worked in slowing down the spread of the virus and called for political unity to launch the country’s “rebuilding.”
WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand police have been working with some creative folks on a series of humorous videos about life in lockdown.
There’s the one about those awkward Zoom meetings, complete with the person who can’t figure out the sound, the one who turns into donut thanks to a random screen filter, and the one whose partner walks past in pajamas.
There is another video featuring a song about keeping a distance of two meters please because “I don’t want your covid if you start to sneeze.”
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s partner Clarke Gayford even appears on one of the videos, a little crazed after baking too much bread.
BEIJING — The U.S. ambassador to China says he doesn’t believe Beijing is deliberately blocking exports of personal protective equipment and medical supplies, adding that the shipment of 1,200 tons of such products to the U.S. could not have been possible without Chinese support.
Terry Branstad also told a small group of reporters on Wednesday that the U.S. has concerns about how China initially handled the virus outbreak in the central city of Wuhan, but that such issues should be addressed after the worldwide pandemic has been brought under control.
“Let’s focus now on saving lives and helping people,” Branstad said.
Chinese officials are believed to have delayed reporting the outbreak for several crucial days in January due to political concerns, allowing the virus to spread much further than it potentially may have.
China has adamantly denied such actions, despite strong evidence to the contrary, saying it has all along been providing accurate, timely information.
Despite working at half staff, U.S. diplomats and local staff in China have been able to facilitate 21 flights of supplies on behalf of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, along with the multiple private chartered flights, Branstad said. Despite reports of separate U.S. states and foreign governments competing for masks, gowns and other needed equipment, he said the Beijing embassy and various consulates have made strenuous efforts to fulfill all requests.
CANBERRA, Australia — The Australian prime minister says he sympathizes with President Donald Trump’s criticisms of the World Health Organization, but Australia will not stop funding the United Nations’ agency.
Trump has directed his administration to freeze WHO funding, claiming the agency didn’t deliver adequate early reports on the coronavirus and cost the U.S. valuable response time.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison told Perth Radio 6PR on Wednesday: “I sympathize with his criticisms and I’ve made a few of my own.”
Australia had announced that COVID-19 had become a pandemic weeks before WHO did. Morrison says WHO’s support for Chinese wet markets where the virus is thought to have transferred from an animal to humans is “completely mystifying.”
“WHO is also as an organisation does a lot of important work, including here in our own region in the Pacific, and we work closely with them so that we’re not going to throw the baby out with the bathwater here,” Morrison said. “But they’re also not immune from criticism and immune from doing things better.”
WHO’s special COVID-19 envoy David Nabarro has since toughened the organization’s line on wet markets, telling the BBC “there are real dangers in these kinds of environments.”
HELSINKI — The Finnish government says it will end the blockade of a key southern region that includes the Nordic nation’s capital, Helsinki, in the first move of easing COVID-19 -related restrictions.
Justice Minister Anna-Maja Henriksson said Wednesday the government found no legal justification to further continue blocking movement of citizens into and out the Uusimaa region, a restriction which enter into force on March 28.
The Uusimaa region is home to some 1.7 million people, nearly of third of Finland’s population, including Helsinki’s 650,000 residents. The region has been the worst affected by the pandemic and the lockdown was meant to prevent the spreading of virus to rest of the nation.
Prime Minister Sanna Marin stressed that all other coronavirus-related restrictions would remain in place in Finland including a ban on gatherings and closure of schools. Finland has so far recorded 64 deaths and 3,237 confirmed COVID-19 cases.
LONDON — The British government is promising to test thousands of nursing home residents and staff for the new coronavirus, as it faces criticism for failing to count care-home deaths in its tally of victims.
The government says it will begin to routinely test care workers and will also test any residents who show symptoms. Currently only the first five symptomatic residents of a home are tested to determine whether there is an outbreak.
British officials are under fire for failing to conduct more tests for COVID-19. The government has promised to change that and has set a target of 100,000 tests a day by the end of April, a more than five-fold increase.
Charities have accused the government of treating elderly people like they don’t matter, and social-care operators say the new coronavirus is causing “devastation” in the country’s nursing homes.
Official statistics showed Tuesday that 15% more people with COVID-19 have died than were recorded in the U.K. government’s daily tally of hospital deaths — including hundreds in care homes.
MOSCOW — Russian social media users and news outlets reported crowds of people queuing at metro stations and traffic jamming up highways leading into Moscow on Wednesday morning after a new system of passes controlling the movement of people within Russia’s capital was introduced to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Police officers were reported to be manually checking IDs and passes of each person driving into Moscow or entering the metro, prompting long queues.
The pass system in Moscow came into effect on Wednesday as the coronavirus outbreak in Russia continued to grow exponentially, with the number of cases doubling every five days. On Wednesday, Russian authorities reported 3,388 new infections, which brought the country’s total to 24,490. Moscow accounted for 14,776 of them.
Russia’s capital has been in lockdown since late March, with residents ordered to stay home except to buy food and medicine, walk pets or go to jobs at essential workplaces. In order to travel somewhere by car or on public transport, Muscovites need to apply for scannable QR-code passes online, listing their destination and purpose of travel.
BERLIN — Germany is pushing back against U.S. President Donald Trump’s criticism of the World Health Organization over its handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas commented Wednesday on Trump’s decision to halt payments to WHO, saying: “Placing blame doesn’t help.”
In a tweet, Maas said that “the virus knows no borders. We must work closely together against COVID-19. Strengthening the U.N., in particular the underfunded WHO, is a better investment, for example to develop and distribute tests and vaccines.”
BANGKOK — Thailand has extended through April 30 a ban on international passenger flights landing in the country as part of its effort to control the spread of COVID-19.
The ban was initially ordered April 4 after chaos broke out at Bangkok’s international airport when more than 100 returning Thai citizens reportedly refused to abide by regulations requiring them to go directly to state-run quarantine centers. The original three-day ban has already been extended once.
Thai authorities even before the airport incident had announced that the return of Thais from abroad would have to be delayed because there were not enough facilities to properly monitor and quarantine them.
Strict regulations requiring prior certification from foreigners that they do not have the coronavirus have effectively banned the entry of most foreign visitors.
Exceptions to the ban renewal announced Wednesday by the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand include state or military aircraft, emergency landings, technical landings without disembarkation, humanitarian, medical or relief flights, repatriation flights and cargo flights. All who do enter are subject to health crisis regulations, including a 14-day state quarantine.
Thailand has a huge tourism industry and last year welcomed about 40 million visitors.
There were 30 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 announced Wednesday, bringing the total to 2,643. Two more deaths were announced, bringing the total to 43, while 1,497 infected people have recovered.
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