Updated: March 1, 2021
Close to one million people believed to be supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump have signed an online petition calling on the first African to run the World Health Organization (WHO) Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to resign, as the Republican leader seeks to blame someone for his own failures amid coronavirus pandemic that have left more than 22,000 Americans dead and over half a million others infected.
The U.S. now has the highest coronavirus death toll in the world and the largest number of infections than any other country on earth, the result of a failed leadership at the top as clearly documented in a blistering New York Times report.
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The detailed and flawless examination by The New York Times revealed how President Trump was warned about the potential for a pandemic “but that internal divisions, lack of planning and his faith in his own instincts led to a halting response.”
“Throughout January, as Mr. Trump repeatedly played down the seriousness of the virus and focused on other issues, an array of figures inside his government — from top White House advisers to experts deep in the cabinet departments and intelligence agencies — identified the threat, sounded alarms and made clear the need for aggressive action.
“The president, though, was slow to absorb the scale of the risk and to act accordingly, focusing instead on controlling the message, protecting gains in the economy and batting away warnings from senior officials,” The New York Times reported on Saturday, quoting reliable sources, backing claims with documents and citing public statements by Mr. Trump himself.
In an election year with an economy falling apart and tens of thousands of Americans dying because of a leadership failure by the President, Mr. Trump has sought to blame everyone else but himself. He would likely face Democrat Joe Biden next November, after Bernie Sanders ended his presidential campaign days ago.
Mr. Trump had already blamed former President Barack Obama for coronavirus testing issues.
“For decades the @CDCgov looked at, and studied, its testing system, but did nothing about it. It would always be inadequate and slow for a large scale pandemic, but a pandemic would never happen, they hoped. President Obama made changes that only complicated things further…..,” he tweeted on March 13.
He also blamed China and referred to the coronavirus as the “Chinese virus”. In addition, he has also blamed the Democrats for “exaggerating” the crisis and once described it as a hoax, as they repeatedly sounded the alarm that action was needed from the White House.
His preferred television station, Fox News, joined the fray, describing the coronavirus as nothing more than the common flu. Several anchors told millions of Americans watching Fox News that there was nothing to worry about.
After weeks of downplaying the crisis, dismissing it, calling it a Democratic hoax, boasting that the virus would soon disappear and go away, last Tuesday, the blame game shifted to the WHO and its head, Ethiopian Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in Geneva.
Mr. Trump’s sudden attack against the WHO came a day after the WHO boss Dr. Ghebreyesus condemned racist attacks against Africa, after two French scientists suggested that a potential coronavirus vaccine should first be tested on a bunch of Africans.
The racist comments were made on the French television channel, LCI, during a discussion last Wednesday about COVID-19 trials set to be launched in Europe and Australia to see if the BCG tuberculosis vaccine could be used to treat the virus.
“It may be provocative. Should we not do this study in Africa where there are no masks, no treatment or intensive care, a little bit like it’s been done for certain AIDS studies, where among prostitutes, we try things, because we know that they are highly exposed and don’t protect themselves?” said Jean-Paul Mira, head of the intensive care unit at the Cochin Hospital in Paris.
Camille Locht, research director at France’s national health institute, Inserm, agreed: “You are right. And by the way, we are thinking of in parallel about a study in Africa using this same approach.”
The backlash was almost immediate, first on the social media, and elsewhere.
On Monday, the WHO boss, who has been praised by most world leaders and defended by Africa, condemned the comments.
“Africa cannot and will not be a testing ground for any vaccine. We will follow all the rules to test any vaccine or therapeutic all over the world using exactly the same rules whether it is in Europe, Africa or wherever, we will use the same protocol
“We will treat human beings the same way, equally.
“The hangover from colonial mentality has to stop and WHO will not allow this to happen.
“And it was a disgrace actually, and appalling to hear during the 21st century from scientists that kind of remarks.
“And we condemn this with the strongest terms possible,” the WHO boss said.
The next day, Tuesday, President Trump attacked the organization, leaving many to speculate that the attacks could have been racially motivated. Mr. Trump has repeatedly been accused of being a racist in the United States.
“The W.H.O. really blew it. For some reason, funded largely by the United States, yet very China centric. We will be giving that a good look. Fortunately I rejected their advice on keeping our borders open to China early on. Why did they give us such a faulty recommendation?” Mr. Trump tweeted on Tuesday, April 7, 2020.
He repeated the same claims at White House press briefings and interview on conservative, Republican leaning television network, Fox News.
But even as Mr. Trump was attacking WHO, The New York Times was reporting on Monday, April 6, how Mr. Trump ignored warnings from his top senior official as far back as January, warning that there could be a full blown coronavirus pandemic in the United States should nothing be done.
“The warning, written in a memo by Peter Navarro, President Trump’s trade adviser, is the highest-level alert known to have circulated inside the West Wing as the administration was taking its first substantive steps to confront a crisis that had already consumed China’s leaders and would go on to upend life in Europe and the United States,” The New York Times said.
“The lack of immune protection or an existing cure or vaccine would leave Americans defenseless in the case of a full-blown coronavirus outbreak on U.S. soil,” Mr. Navarro’s memo said. “This lack of protection elevates the risk of the coronavirus evolving into a full-blown pandemic, imperiling the lives of millions of Americans.”
That was exactly what happened. In massive rallies, President Trump, the former entertainer turned politician, described the coronavirus as a hoax, downplayed it many times and encouraged people to go about their daily lives, claiming repeatedly the government had the virus under control.
Mr. Trump was making these comments even as his own scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) were warning that valuable time was being wasted.
By the time the American President finally woke up, two months had been wasted and the virus had already taken root in the United States. Right now, more than 20, 000 people have died from the virus in the United States.
With Mr. Trump escalating attacks against the first African to run the WHO, his supporters, launched an online petition demanding the resignation of Dr. Tedros, a move at variance with the majority of the people in the United States.
“We strongly think Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus is not fit for his role as WHO Director General,” the petition with 853,000 signatures, posted on the Change.org website, reads. It calls for the official’s immediate resignation.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has led the WHO as director-general since July 2017. He has been praised by leaders from around the world and has received the backing of the African Union, and African leaders, as well as many other leaders around the world, including President Emmanuel Macron of France.
“Surprised to learn of a campaign by the US govt against @WHO’s global leadership. The @_AfricanUnion fully supports @WHO and @DrTedros. The focus should remain on collectively fighting #Covid19 as a united global community. The time for accountability will come,” tweeted the African Union Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat on April 8.
Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame followed with his own tweet, defending WHO and its Director General against attacks by Trump.
“Totally Agree ,and asking this; Is it Dr.Tedros,WHO,China…under attack or all of them together? Let’s focus on the fight against this pandemic,whoever sh’d be held acc’ntable will come later and done properly. Save us too much politics Africa does not need it. Who does?” he asked in response to Mahamat’s tweet.
Specifically, Tedros has been accused of allowing China to underreport the impact of the virus in Wuhan, the city believed to have been the point of origin for the deadly outbreak. The allegedly lowballed numbers from China have affected other nations’ ability to adequately respond to the outbreak, critics have asserted.
“A lot of us are really disappointed,” the petition continues. “We believe WHO is supposed to be politically neutral. Without any investigation, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus solely believes on [sic] the death and infected numbers that the Chinese government provided with them.”
On Thursday, a group of Trump’s allies, Republicans from the House Oversight Committee wrote to Tedros, demanding that he disclose the precise nature of his relationship with Chinese officials.
“Throughout the crisis, the WHO has shied away from placing any blame on the Chinese government, which is in essence the Communist Party of China,” the Republicans wrote. “You, as leader of the WHO, even went so far as to praise the Chinese government’s ‘transparency’ during the crisis, when, in fact, the regime has consistently lied to the world by underreporting their actual infection and death statistics.”
The GOP letter cited a January message on Twitter in which the WHO said Chinese authorities found “no clear evidence” of human-to-human transmission of the virus, also known as COVID-19.
On Wednesday, during an appearance on Fox News’ “The Story” with Martha MacCallum, White House economic adviser Peter Navarro referred to Tedros as one of the Chinese government’s “proxies” as Beijing looks to gain influence over various U.N.-run agencies, Fox News reported.
Navarro told MacCallum that President Trump was seriously considering cutting funding to the WHO after the president accused the agency of botching the handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
“It all tracks to China’s view of the world and how they want to control different types of international organizations, even as they don’t play by the international rules,” he said. “So it’s going to be up to the president to look at this.”
However, last Wednesday, Dr. Tedros, as the WHO boss is fondly and widely known, blasted Trump for trying to politicize the coronavirus pandemic and warned against such a stance.
The WHO boss urged President Trump to “quarantine politicizing COVID-19” or see many more “body bags”.
Dr. Ghebreyesus did not mention President Trump by name but he warned that politicizing a disease that has wreaked havoc all over the world is a waste of time. The WHO boss said trying to politicize the virus is like playing with fire.
He was speaking at his three-time a week press conference and was responding to attacks by President Trump who tried to link him to China, and to label him anti-America.
He recognized that the United States in general has been good to WHO but attacks to score political points at a time many were still dying from the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus was unhelpful and damaging.
He called on the world leaders to use other means to score “political points” and not a disease which is still ravaging the planet.
He wondered how many people should die for global solidarity led by world leaders to continue to be reinforced.
He said the world should focus on the issue at hand, which is defeating the virus, and “quarantine politicizing COVID-19”, saying “let’s fight like hell” to defeat this virus. He said failure to do that, the worst may be yet to come.
He showed how from the very beginning, the WHO took COVID-19 seriously, keeping the world informed, in private and in public as well as holding regular press briefings to keep ordinary citizens informed.
On China, the WHO DG said the world should come together, regardless of country and political ideologies or affiliations, to defeat the virus.
He said the WHO was close to all countries and he did not have any particular preference for China or any other country in the world.
Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he had faced many attacks, including racist attacks in the past three months against him personally, but added that he did not “give a damn”.
He said what is more important is to defeat the virus. He said he only spoke up when some people crossed the line by suggesting a coronavirus vaccine should first be administered on a bunch of people in Africa before it is tested elsewhere.
In the United States, most people are not calling on the WHO boss to resign and see the attacks as a ploy to score political points and shift blame.
USA Today reported on Saturday that Trump’s allegations against the WHO were mainly false.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the leading infectious disease expert in the United States said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday that “no one is going to deny” that more lives could have been saved during the coronavirus crisis if the Trump administration had implemented social distancing guidelines prior to March, Axios reported.