President Donald Trump has threatened to withdraw US funding to the World Health Organisation, saying it “missed the call” on the devastating coronavirus pandemic.
Mr Trump made the announcement at a White House press briefing on Tuesday (Washington time) as deaths and infections across the United States continued to rise.
Mr Trump criticised the organisation, saying it “called it wrong” on the coronavirus outbreak and saying it seemed to be “very China-centric”.
“They should have known and they probably did know,” he said.
“We‘re going to put a hold on money spent to the WHO. We’re going to put a very powerful hold on it and we‘re going to see.”
Minutes later, however, the President changed his language, conceding that the midst of a global pandemic was “maybe not” the best time to freeze funding for the international health organisation.
“I‘m not saying I‘m going to do it, but we are going to look at it,” he said – denying his earlier comments when pressed by reporters.
“I said we’re going to look at it. We’re going to investigate it, we’re going to look at it. But we will look at ending funding.”
Mr Trump also denied seeing memos from White House trade adviser Peter Navarro warning of coronavirus risks.
His statement came as the US was partway through what is likely to be its deadliest week of the coronavirus pandemic.
The total number of coronavirus deaths in the US topped 12,000 on Tuesday, according to a tally by NBC News. New York City – one of the country’s worst-hit areas with more than 4000 deaths – had its single deadliest day, with more than 800 dying in the 24 hours from Monday.
The WHO has praised China for its transparency on the virus, even though there is reason to believe more people died of COVID-19 in China than its official tally.
The organisation has been warning about the coronavirus since early January. In late February, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus urged countries to prepare, while the organisation declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic on March 11.
Throughout his presidency, Mr Trump has voiced scepticism of many international organisations.