Merkel steps up defense of WHO at G-7 video summit

NEW YORK/TOKYO — The World Health Organization and other global institutions are essential to fighting the new coronavirus pandemic, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said at Group of Seven leaders videoconference on Thursday, a position that was echoed in a group statement released after the meeting.

“We fully support the World Health Organization in its global mandate to lead on disease outbreaks and emergencies with health consequences, leaving no geographical vacuum, and encourage all countries, international organizations, and the private sector to assist global efforts,” the statement read.

The G-7 statement came after U.S. President Donald Trump froze funding to the organization on Tuesday, arguing that a review was necessary to see whether it was adequately fulfilling its responsibilities.

Trump bashed the WHO at a press briefing on Wednesday, saying the organization had initially opposed a travel ban to and from China.

“They didn’t want to do it. They were angry that we did it,” Trump said. “Took them a long time to realize what was going on, but I have a feeling they know exactly what was going on,” he said, adding it was “tragic” that some other countries listened to the WHO and refrained from imposing travel bans.

“And you see what happened to Italy. You see what happened to Spain. You see what happened to France. WHO’s guidance had failed to control their borders at a very crucial phase, quickly unleashing the contagion around the world. That was a horrible, tragic mistake.”

In contrast to Trump, Merkel on Thursday “expressed … full support to the WHO,” and emphasized that “the pandemic can only be overcome with a strong and coordinated international response,” according to a statement from the chancellor’s office. 

She also gave support for a debt moratorium for developing countries agreed on at a Group of 20 meeting of finance officials on Wednesday.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also highlighted the crucial role the WHO plays in the crisis. “There is a need for international coordination and the WHO is an important part of that collaboration and coordination. We recognize that there have been questions asked, but at the same time it is really important we stay coordinated as we move through this,” he said.

The G-7 leaders agreed that nations should prepare to restart economic activity in a way that ensures safety once the pandemic wanes and discussed supporting African, Caribbean and Southeast Asian nations that have weak healthcare infrastructure.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe disclosed during the meeting the nature of the nationwide emergency declaration he issued Thursday, as well as the economic stimulus package, which will include $930 checks to every resident. Abe also touched on how Japan will expand clinical trials on the effectiveness of the flu drug Avigan on COVID-19. “It is necessary to develop and distribute treatments,” said the prime minister.

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