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Trump vs. WHO

Published on June 13th, 2020

The Associated Press had an interesting but disturbing article about Trump’s disingenuous misrepresentations related to the World Health Organization (WHO). Trump continues to spread a number of outright false and misleading claims about the WHO in his arbitrary decision to cut ties with the health agency over the coronavirus epidemic.  Trump said he would halt funding and end a long-standing U.S. relationship with WHO. The U.S. helped found WHO in 1948.It’s unclear whether the president can unilaterally withdraw the U.S. from WHO without approval from Congress.

An AP Fact Check finds numerous inaccuracies in Trump’s argument.

Trump accuses WHO of ignoring scientific reports in December of the virus spreading in China that didn’t exist. 

Trump also claims WHO criticized the U.S. travel ban from China but WHO was never critical of that decision .

TRUMP: “The World Health Organization consistently ignored credible reports of the virus spreading in Wuhan in early December 2019 or even earlier, including reports from the Lancet medical journal. The World Health Organization failed to independently investigate credible reports that conflicted directly with the Chinese government’s official accounts, even those that came from sources within Wuhan itself.” — May 18 letter.

THE FACTS: No such study existed in December, according to the Lancet. The Lancet said the first papers it published on the coronavirus came from Chinese and Hong Kong researchers on Jan. 24. There was no report in December “referring to a virus or outbreak in Wuhan or anywhere else in China,” the journal said.

“In the first weeks of January WHO was very, very clear; we alerted the world on Jan. 5th,” Michael Ryan, executive director of WHO’s Health Emergencies Program, told reporters on April 15. “Systems around the world, including in the U.S., began to activate their emergency management systems on January 6th.”

TRUMP: “By (Dec. 31), Taiwanese authorities had communicated information to the World Health Organization indicating human-to-human transmission of a new virus. Yet the World Health Organization chose not to share any of this critical information with the rest of the world, probably for political reasons.” — May 18 letter.

THE FACTS: Not true. WHO says it never received information at the time specifically referencing human transmission. He’s overstating the level of knowledge about human transmission of the virus at the time.

Officials in Taiwan did send an email on Dec. 31 to WHO that requested more information about the outbreak in Wuhan, but it does not mention “human-to-human transmission.” The email said “at least seven atypical pneumonia cases were reported in Wuhan, China” and noted that patients had been isolated for treatment.

TRUMP: “On January 14, 2020, the World Health Organization gratuitously reaffirmed China’s now-debunked claim that the coronavirus could not be transmitted between humans, stating: ‘Preliminary investigations conducted by the Chinese authorities have found no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission of the novel coronavirus (2019-nCov) identified in Wuhan, China.’ This assertion was in direct conflict with censored reports from Wuhan.” — May 18 letter.

THE FACTS: Taken out of context.  It’s accurate that a WHO tweet cited “no clear evidence” of human-to-human transmission. But the organization didn’t rule out the possibility. At a news briefing that same day, Maria Van Kerkhove, acting head of WHO’s emerging diseases unit, allowed that there could be cases of human transmission.

“From the information that we have it is possible that there is limited human-to-human transmission, potentially among families, but it is very clear right now that we have no sustained human-to-human transmission,” she said. “It is still early days, we don’t have a clear clinical picture.”

TRUMP, referring to China’s Xi Jinping: “On January 28, 2020, after meeting with President Xi in Beijing, you praised the Chinese government for its ‘transparency’ with respect to the coronavirus, announcing that China had set a ‘new standard for outbreak control’ and ‘bought the world time.’ You did not mention that China had, by then, silenced or punished several doctors for speaking out about the virus and restricted Chinese institutions from publishing information about it.” — May 18 letter.

THE FACTS: Trump and the WHO did repeatedly praise China’s transparency and pandemic response even as evidence mounted that it had failed to notify the public about a looming crisis. In a CNBC interview on Jan. 22, Trump was asked if he trusted information from China about the coronavirus. “I do,” Trump said. “I have a great relationship with President Xi.”

Two days later, “China has been working very hard to contain the Coronavirus,” he tweeted. “The United States greatly appreciates their efforts and transparency. It will all work out well. …I want to thank President Xi!”

Trump kept up the compliments when asked several times in February about whether data from China can be trusted. He called Xi “extremely capable” and said he’s “doing a very good job with a very, very tough situation.”

There were many gaps in containment and initial delays in testing, leading to the U.S. rising to No. 1 globally in the number of people infected by COVID-19 and the number of deaths last week surpassing 100,000. That is on Trump, not China.

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