Trump cuts ties with WHO mid-pandemic, as Europe speeds reopening

Susan Stumme with AFP bureaus
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US President Donald Trump has cut ties with the World Health Organization over its handling of the coronavirus pandemic

US President Donald Trump has cut ties with the World Health Organization over its handling of the coronavirus pandemic (AFP Photo/MANDEL NGAN)

US President Donald Trump on Friday said he was severing ties with the World Health Organization, signalling the end of hundreds of millions of dollars in funding to the UN agency as the deadly coronavirus pandemic rages on.

As Europe speeded along the path to reopening after months of crippling lockdowns, Trump's move is likely to spark dismay, especially in other parts of the world where the outbreak has yet to reach its peak.

Russia recorded a record number of deaths on Friday and several nations in Latin America are bracing for difficult weeks ahead, especially Brazil, where the toll has soared.

Last month, Trump suspended funding to the WHO, accusing it of not doing enough to curb the initial spread of the novel coronavirus and being too lenient with China, where the global outbreak began last year.

On Friday, he made that decision permanent -- a dire one for the UN agency's finances as the United States is by far its biggest contributor, having given $400 million last year.

"Because they have failed to make the requested and greatly needed reforms, we will be today terminating our relationship with the World Health Organization," Trump told reporters.

The Republican leader said the US would be redirecting funds previously allocated to the WHO "to other worldwide and deserving urgent global public health needs."

"The world needs answers from China on the virus. We must have transparency," Trump said.

Beijing has furiously denied the US allegations that it played down the threat when the virus emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan, and insisted it has been forthcoming.

So far, the pandemic has claimed more than 362,000 lives and hammered the global economy.

Populations are learning to adjust to life with the long-term threat of infection as the virus continues its march around the globe -- with more than 5.8 million cases -- and a vaccine remains elusive.

- Record new deaths in Russia -

Russia reported a record increase of 232 coronavirus deaths on Friday, just four days before the capital Moscow is due to ease its lockdown.

With 387,623 cases, it now has the third-highest number of infections in the world after the United States and Brazil.

Moscow's lockdown is to be eased from Monday, with some non-food retail shops to reopen and outdoor exercise permitted.

- 'Dark and meaningless' -

Moscow will thus be following the lead of many other European and North American cities that are slowly emerging from strict stay-at-home orders as the summer holiday season approaches.

Tourism-dependent Greece said it will reopen two main airports to arrivals from 29 countries from June 15. However hard-hit countries such as France, Spain, Britain and Italy -- were not on the list.

In Austria, hotels were allowed to reopen for tourists on Friday under special guidelines, including the obligatory wearing of masks in key areas.

"It's of course a lot more effort now. But the most important thing is that guests return," Gilbert Kratschmann, marketing manager at the Das Triest boutique hotel in Vienna, told AFP.

In Italy, gondola makers in Venice are looking forward to June 3 when tourists will be allowed to return, albeit with mandatory face masks.

"Venice without gondolas is dark and meaningless," said Roberto Dei Rossi, one of the few remaining traditional carpenters who build the long black boats.

Turkey too moved ahead with easing restrictions as mosques opened for the first time in months, drawing hundreds of worshippers in protective masks for mass prayers in Istanbul.

In the United States, outdoor dining resumed Friday in the US capital Washington -- with proper social distancing.

And New York, once the epicenter of the US outbreak, is "on track" to begin reopening the week of June 8, state Governor Andrew Cuomo said.

The sporting world is also trying to get back on the ball.

England's FA Cup final is set to take place on August 1, football authorities announced Friday, and competition in Spain's La Liga will resume on June 11.

- 'Everything has changed' -

While Europe reopens, the urgency of tackling the disease elsewhere in the world was underlined by ballooning death tolls in South America -- most alarmingly in Brazil where more than 26,000 have died.

Chile posted another record number of deaths in a 24-hour period. The overall total neared 1,000. More than 80 percent of the country's known cases are in the capital Santiago.

Iran meanwhile announced its highest number of new coronavirus infections in nearly two months.

The economic carnage also continued unabated, with India's economy growing at its slowest pace in two decades in the first quarter, and Canada and Brazil also saying their GDP figures had shrunk.

Canada extended its ban on cruise ship travel in its territorial waters through the end of October -- a blow for companies offering autumn foliage viewing trips that included Canadian stops.

And the toll on workers around the world was illustrated by the news that French car giant Renault plans to cut 15,000 jobs as part of a two-billion-euro ($2.2 billion) cost-cutting drive.

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