US president Donald Trump said on Tuesday that he will stop US funding to the World Health Organization [WHO], accusing it of mismanaging the Covid-19 outbreak and helping cover up the spread of the virus from China.
Speaking from the White House, Trump said that WHO had “failed in its basic duty” to respond to the pandemic.
He said: "With the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, we have deep concerns whether America's generosity has been put to the best use possible.
"I am directing my administration to halt funding while a review is conducted to assess the World Health Organization's role in severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus.”
The WHO is funded by “assessed contributions” from its member states which are calculated based on a nation's wealth and population, with further funding coming via voluntary contributions.
The US is WHO's largest contributor, having provided $400 million [£316 million] of funding in 2018-19, which made up just under 15 per cent of the WHO’s overall budget for that period.
Trump has also accused the WHO of criticising his own approach to the pandemic - which included placing travel restrictions on people coming from China back in late January -, of being tardy in its own response, and being too lenient toward the Chinese state for its own handling of the outbreak in Wuhan.
He added: "Had the WHO done its job to get medical experts into China to objectively assess the situation on the ground and to call out China's lack of transparency, the outbreak could have been contained at its source with very little death.
"This would have saved thousands of lives and avoided worldwide economic damage. Instead, the WHO willingly took China's assurances to face value... and defended the actions of the Chinese government."
The WHO has not yet issued a formal response, but UN secretary general António Guterres said that it is “not the time” to make such threats and that nations across the world must come together “in solidarity” to fight the outbreak.
Guterres said: "It is my belief that the World Health Organization must be supported, as it is absolutely critical to the world's efforts to win the war against Covid-19.”
The WHO is in the midst of seeking new funding to help fight the virus, with an appeal for a minimum of $1 billion in the pipeline. It had launched an appeal for $675 million of additional funds back in March.
After Trump's news conference, Microsoft founder Bill Gates tweeted that stopping funding for WHO "during a world health crisis is as dangerous as it sounds".
Gates' philanthropy organisation the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is WHO's second-largest benefactor after the US.
Meanwhile, Trump declared that the US was “close” to finalising plans to lift travel restrictions.
He had angered state governors and legal experts on Monday after indicating that he had the authority to overturn lockdown rules made at state or local level, but towed back on those words on Tuesday, telling the media that “the governors are responsible” for laws in their own territories.
Trump said: “The federal government will be watching them closely. We will hold governors accountable, but will be working with them to make sure it goes really well.”