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Backlash to Trump cutting WHO ties as virus grips Latin America

US President Donald Trump has sparked a backlash by cutting ties with the World Health Organization during a pandemic

Brussels, Belgium | AFP | US President Donald Trump faced a broad backlash Saturday over his decision to sever ties with the UN’s health agency during a pandemic, as the coronavirus surged in Latin America and Europe further reopened from lockdown.

The EU called on Washington to reconsider its decision to leave the World Health Organization over its handling of the pandemic, which has devastated the global economy, infected nearly six million people and killed more than 364,000.

“The WHO needs to continue being able to lead the international response to pandemics, current and future,” the European Union said in a statement.

“Now is the time for enhanced cooperation and common solutions. Actions that weaken international results must be avoided.”

Trump initially suspended funding to the WHO last month, accusing it of not doing enough to curb the early spread of the virus and being too lenient with China, where the virus emerged late last year.

On Friday he made that decision permanent in a major blow for the agency’s finances, as the US is by far its biggest contributor, pumping in $400 million last year.

Trump said the US would redirect WHO funds “to other worldwide and deserving urgent global public health needs.”

Germany’s Health Minister Jens Spahn said the “disappointing” decision was a setback for global health, while Chancellor Angela Merkel declined to attend an in-person G7 summit that Trump had suggested he would host.

Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet medical journal, said it was “madness and terrifying both at the same time”.

“The US government has gone rogue at a time of humanitarian emergency,” he tweeted.

– ‘People going hungry’ –

Trump’s announcement comes at a delicate time in the fight against the virus, which is progressing at different speeds across the globe.

There has been pressure in many countries — including a protest attended by hundreds in Rome on Saturday — to lift crippling restrictions despite a vaccine remaining elusive and experts warning of a possible second wave of infections.

India said Saturday it would relax the world’s biggest lockdown from early June, even while announcing another record daily rise in infections, its total climbing to 85,000.

Iran meanwhile announced Saturday that collective prayers would resume in mosques  — following the lead of Turkey the day before — even as infections rose again in the Middle East’s hardest-hit country.

In Europe, many countries have been reopening for business as their number of infections has steadily fallen.

Italy’s iconic Leaning Tower of Pisa opened its doors on Saturday, while parks and the famed Galeries Lafayette department store opened in Paris ahead of France further easing measures on Tuesday.

But countries in Latin America are bracing for difficult weeks ahead, especially Brazil, where the death toll shot up by 1,124 on Friday and there was a record number of new infections.

The poor have been hit hard in Brazil, which now has the second highest number of cases in the world after the United States.

“In 26 years, I’ve never seen so many people living in fear, so many people going hungry,” said Alcione Albanesi, founder of charity Amigos do Bem, which distributes supplies to communities in the impoverished Sertao region of Brazil’s northeast.

“Everything has ground to a stop. But hunger doesn’t stop.”

Chile also logged another record number of deaths, while Uruguayan President Luis Lacalle Pou entered quarantine after attending a meeting with an official who tested positive.

– Reopenings –

A world away, the elegant Chenonceau castle opened in central France on Saturday as Parisians were allowed to travel beyond a 100-kilometre (60 mile) radius from home.

“It’s her first chateau,” grinned Lucile Daron Van Gennep, 32, whose eight-month-old daughter was strapped to her front.

In Austria, hotels and cinemas were allowed to take in customers again, provided masks are worn.

“It is very important that things return to normal, because I am a person who lives alone and is very interested in culture,” film buff Rotraud Turanitz said at Vienna’s Admiral Kino cinema.

Hotels and shopping centres in Ukraine’s capital Kiev also reopened on Saturday.

The US capital Washington DC resumed outdoor dining, while Los Angeles restaurants and hair salons also reopened.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said the state was “on track” to begin reopening in the week of June 8, even as the death toll in the US spiked by 1,225 on Friday.

Disney World in Florida said it will be up and running again from July 11.

Global sport has also started to rev back into action, with Austria announcing it will host the Formula One’s delayed season-opener on July 5, while the NBA said it was eyeing a July 31 return.

– Economies shattered –

The economic damage from weeks of lockdowns continues to pile up, with Chile taking out a two-year $24 billion credit line with the IMF.

India’s economy grew at its slowest pace in two decades in the first quarter, and Canada and Brazil also said their GDP figures shrank.

As the lockdowns finally lift, some people are revelling in the return of long-missed creature comforts.

In Japan, traditional bathhouses have begun to open again, much to the delight of businessman You Sasaki.

“This feels good. Feels great,” the 50-year-old said as he sat in a warm tub at Yumominosato onsen, just outside Tokyo.

“The last time I came here was the end of March. The onsen is always special. It’s hard to explain in words.”

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