Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19), which was discovered in Wuhan, China has now taken more than 117,400 lives globally and infected over 1.8 million. Researchers are busy in producing the best vaccines, and world leaders are cooperating to slow the spread of the virus that causes a disease with symptoms like flu but can become highly deadly.
Despite the global efforts to mitigate the outbreak, the situation is also triggering diplomatic tensions among countries for various reasons, from access restriction to pro-China allegations targeting the World Health Organization (WHO).
Trump Slams the World Health Organization as Being Pro-China
US President Donald Trump threatened to freeze aid to the Geneva-based institution and accused it of being biased towards China.
“The WHO 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?” Trump recently tweeted.
The allegation came amid the surge in the numbers of COVID-19-related infections in the U.S. As of April 13, there are 564,317 recorded cases of COVID-19 in the US and 22,859 deaths, surpassing the death toll in Italy and Spain.
American lawmakers from the Republican Party, Lindsey Graham, and Marco Rubio backed Trump by saying that there would be no aid assistance for the WHO. They also specifically demanded the resignation of WHO head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
Criticism of the WHO’s Response to COVID-19
The WHO has been under ongoing criticism for its handling of COVID-19. At the end of January, the health organization under the United Nations (UN) admitted making a wrong assessment about the global risk of the Novel Coronavirus.
The WHO uses three categories to evaluate the global risk; severity level, a level based on how widespread the virus is, and a level which measures the mitigation capacity. In the past, the WHO was slammed for hurriedly declaring the swine flu (H1N1) a global pandemic in 2009, triggering the vaccine’s panic buying. In 2014, the WHO faced criticism for underestimating the Ebola outbreak in three West African countries that claimed more than 11,000 lives at that time and is still ongoing.
Taiwan Demands Apology from WHO Boss
Taiwan recently demanded that Ghebreyesus apologize after the Ethiopian microbiologist was believed to have accused Taiwan of launching a racist attack on him and the organization he chairs.
In her Facebook account, Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen responded to Ghebreyesus’ accusation by writing that Taiwan has been excluded from international organizations (due to the one-China policy) and understands more about feeling discriminated against than anyone else.
China has dubbed Taiwan the mainland’s renegade province due to the 1949 civil war and blocked the international community from recognizing Taiwan as an independent state, which is widely known as the One-China principle.
The WHO snubbed Taiwan’s early warning about the potential danger of the Novel Coronavirus in Wuhan in December 2019, given that Taiwan is not a member of the WHO. The organization’s denial has made the world pay the price as even countries with the best health care systems such as the U.S. and Italy are not prepared to deal with the surging amount of infected patients.
Taiwan is hailed as one of the most prepared countries in dealing with COVID-19, thanks to its past experience fighting SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrom) outbreak in 2003. Taiwan has combined transparency, the implementation of technology to identify cases and track patients, and solid coordination involving relevant institutions to contain the pandemic.
South Korea’s Protest over Japan’s Travel Restrictions
In early March, South Korea protested Japan’s decision to quarantine travelers coming from China and South Korea as an effort to curb the virus.
South Korea’s Foreign Ministry urged Tokyo to reconsider its “irrational and arrogant” steps and announced plans to summon the Japanese ambassador to discuss the matter.
“We express deep regret towards the unjust measures taken by the Japanese government,” South Korea’s Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha stated as Todayonline reported. He added that Seoul might take countermeasures if necessary.
South Korea has drawn global praise for tackling the COVID-19 outbreak without imposing a nationwide lockdown, thanks to the integration of technology, transparency, and rapid mass testing. Also, South Korea is the world’s second-most efficient country in dealing with the outbreak after Singapore, as research from Deep Knowledge Venture — a Hong-Kong-based venture capital company — recently revealed.
The EU’s Long Path to Approving a Stimulus Package
On April 11 the European Union (EU) approved a half a billion Euro (equal to 4 percent of Europe’s GDP) stimulus to offset to the impact of the pandemic.
The package will enable the countries which have been hardest hit by COVID-19 hardest-hit countries such as Italy and Spain to access the bailout worth up to 240 million Euros, as long as the budget is used to improve the needs for their healthcare services.
The mortality rates related to COVID-19 in Italy and Spain have reached an alarming level, despite the lockdown both countries are imposing. As of April 13, Spain’s infection numbers come second after the U.S. (169,496), with 17,489 deaths while Italy has recorded more than 20,460 deaths and 159,516 COVID-19 cases so far.
Previously, France and the Netherlands were at odds over the bloc’s finance ministers’ compromise to disburse 500 billion Euro for the pandemic package, given that using up all the bloc’s money will make the bloc difficult to save in another rainy day.
“You cannot judge when you are in the crisis. We do agree we should make use of all our instruments. But we should not use up all our instruments this week, because we don’t know how long the crisis will be,” an EU diplomat told Eurobersever.
Germany and Canada Accused the US of Sabotaging Masks
A senior Germany official accused the Trump administration of “modern piracy” after seizing almost 200,000 face masks previously ordered by Germany, as the Guardian reported.
Berlin state’s Interior Minister, Andreas Geisel, confirmed the media reported that around 200,000 FFP2 masks bought for the Berlin Police were confiscated in the airport in Bangkok, Thailand’s capital following the US authorities’ intervention.
The American company 3M is the producer of those masks. It said that the Trump administration had demanded the increase in shipment to the U.S. from its overseas factories.
However, the Trump administration also orders the company not to export its masks to Canada and Latin America, triggering anger from Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The young prime minister argued that the US also relies on medical supplies from Canada.
Masks are the hottest commodities in the pandemic, as well as hand sanitizers and rapid test kits. Many doctors and medical workers around the world are facing a shortage of masks and protective equipment, making them more vulnerable to the COVID-19 infection.