Coronavirus: Pence doubles down on Trump administration’s WHO attacks

'We’ll create accountability, just like the American people would want us to do'

Chris Riotta
New York
Thursday 09 April 2020 18:29 BST
Donald Trump tells Mike Pence not to call governors critical of coronavirus response

Mike Pence has vowed to hold officials at the World Health Organisation (WHO) accountable for having allegedly diminished the threat of the novel coronavirus, echoing Donald Trump’s attacks against the United Nation's global public health agency.

In an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity on Wednesday night, the vice president — who leads the White House coronavirus response task force — pointed his finger at the WHO for having “been so wrong” when it came to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“This is a president who believes in accountability, and the American taxpayers provide tens of millions of dollars to the World Health Organisation,” Mr Pence said. “I suspect we will continue to do that, but that doesn't mean that at the right time in the future we aren't going to ask the tough questions about how the World Health Organisation could have been so wrong.”

The vice president added: “Literally at the time President Trump stood up the coronavirus task force in January and suspended all travel from China, just days before that, the World Health Organisation was continuing to diminish the threat of the coronavirus and its impact in China.”

He then reiterated his promise to “get to the answers” behind the organisation’s initial guidelines surrounding the pandemic, adding: “We’ll create accountability, just like the American people would want us to do.”

His comments largely mirrored those the president and White House administration, all of which have seemingly blamed the WHO for its own slow response to the coronavirus outbreak in the US. The vice president’s interview comes amid mounting criticism over the administration’s handling of the pandemic, as the nation’s death toll nears 15,000 people.

Despite the US having confirmed its first official Covid-19 case on 20 January, the president did not declare a national emergency until months later in mid-March, at which point thousands of people had been exposed to and contracted the novel virus.

Analysts have said those initial weeks and months of the outbreak in the US could have been a window of time to save countless lives — had the federal government successfully rolled out expansive testing to help slow the spread of transmissions. Instead, many states experienced reported difficulties in receiving testing kits from the federal government, which potentially allowed the virus to spread rampantly through communities across the country.

Mr Trump claimed the WHO “got it wrong” when it came to the pandemic during a Wednesday press briefing at the White House, telling reporters: “The WHO got it wrong, they got up very wrong. In many ways they were wrong. They also minimised the threat very strongly.”

“As you know they made a statement January 14th that there was no human to human transmission — there was,” he added, referring to a tweet the group posted about Chinese officials claiming there had been no human transmissions as of that time. The WHO's position on human transmissions was later corrected after more accurate reporting became available.

Though Mr Pence stopped short of threatening funding for the organisation, the president suggested earlier in the week his White House would “study” and “make a determination as to what we’re doing” regarding the WHO.

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