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Donald Trump has announced that the US will be “terminating its relationship” with the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Speaking in the Rose Garden at the White House, the US president said he wanted to redirect funds to other organisations in an anti-China address over the coronavirus pandemic.
He accused the WHO of failing to adequately respond to COVID-19 because China has “total control” over the global organisation.
He said Chinese officials “ignored” their reporting obligations to the WHO and pressured the group to mislead the world when the virus was first discovered.
It comes after weeks of criticism of the WHO by Mr Trump who has accused the organisation of not acting fast enough on the coronavirus outbreak.
The US is the biggest single contributor to the WHO, paying in around $450m (£360m) a year, with Mr Trump saying that China only contributed around $40m (£32m).
His move to cut ties with the organisation is expected to significantly weaken it while in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In his address, Mr Trump again blamed China for the COVID-19 outbreak, calling it the “Wuhan virus”, and said the country is responsible for more than 100,000 US deaths.
The move has prompted criticism from a number of health and science experts.
Dr Stephen Griffin, associate professor in the School of Medicine, University of Leeds, said there was “no logic” in severing links during the middle of a global pandemic.
“Pandemics are, by definition, a global crisis. To not face COVID-19 with a united front seems futile,” he said.
“Given the scale of the outbreak in the US, this action appears nothing short of an attempt to refocus attention away from how this has been handled.”
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Dr Gail Carson, a consultant in infectious diseases at the University of Oxford, said: “Now is the time for solidarity and to stand together to end the pandemic as soon as we can and to save lives.
“WHO stands for the health of all of us and should not be ‘punished’ by any country in the middle of a pandemic because of an opinion, certainly not before any action review process has taken place.
“Now is not the time to weaken the world’s leading health agency, who has shown strong leadership with strong technical messages throughout this pandemic.”
During his address Mr Trump also criticised China over its stance on Hong Kong, saying the city is no longer sufficiently autonomous to warrant special treatment from the US.
He said he will revise US travel advice to the region, warning of increased risk of surveillance.
The US will also take steps to sanction officials from Hong Kong who have been involved in “eroding” the autonomy of the region.
China is set to introduce legislation in Hong Kong that would crack down on the anti-government protests in the city.
It has prompted concerns that Beijing is chipping away at the “one country, two systems” principle, that outlines the region’s autonomy.
It was expected that Mr Trump would also use his news conference to address the death of George Floyd, whose death in police custody has sparked widespread protests in the US.
Mr Trump had quipped that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” following riots in Minneapolis where Mr Floyd died.
However, the president left the stage before taking any questions from the press.