US President Donald Trump on Friday said he was severing ties with the World Health Organization, signaling 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 late 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 364,000 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 5.9 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.
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.
‘Dark and meaningless’
Tourism-dependent Greece said it will reopen two main airports to arrivals from 29 countries, including Israel, 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 worshipers in protective masks for mass prayers in Istanbul.
In the United States, outdoor dining resumed Friday after three months 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.
In Florida, SeaWorld and Universal studios were set to open in June, and Disney World was scheduled for a July 11 opening, officials said Friday.
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.
New Zealand said it has all but eradicated the coronavirus with just one person in the nation of 5 million known to be infected.
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, which on Friday reached 27,878 coronavirus deaths, surpassing the toll of hard-hit Spain and making it the country with the fifth-highest number of fatalities.
The epicenter of the South American coronavirus outbreak, Brazil saw 1,124 deaths in 24 hours, the Ministry of Health said.
It also had a record number of new cases — 26,928 in one day — bringing the total number of infections to 465,166.
The United States, Britain, Italy and France lead the world in coronavirus deaths. The US has confirmed over 102,000 deaths, and over 1.7 million cases.
A federal public health study released Friday shed more light on the contagion’s beginnings in the United States. The most comprehensive federal study to date concluded that the spark that started the US coronavirus epidemic arrived during a three-week window from mid-January to early February, before the nation halted travel from China.
Brazil has seen 131.2 coronavirus deaths per one million people — compared to more than 300 in the United States and 580 in Spain — but the pandemic has yet to peak in the South American country.
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.
Staggering economic toll
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.
The US Commerce Department statistics on Friday showed a record-shattering 13.6% drop in spending in April, a day after a federal jobs report showed another 2 million-plus Americans went out of work last week. The depth of the spending drop is particularly damaging because consumer spending is the primary driver of the economy.
May is likely to set an aviation milestone: For the first time, Chinese airlines will operate more flights than US carriers, according to aviation data firm Cirium. Airlines in China have slowly added flights since mid-February, while US airlines cut schedules more sharply when the coronavirus wrecked demand for air travel in the US.
The latest job-loss figures, released Thursday by the US Labor Department, brought to 41 million the running total of Americans who have filed for unemployment benefits since the coronavirus shutdowns took hold in mid-March.
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.
Worldwide, the virus has infected over 5.9 million people and killed over 364,000, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. The true dimensions of the disaster are widely believed to be significantly greater, with experts saying many victims died without ever being tested.