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Grassley joins Trump in blaming WHO for coronavirus lapses

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - Dem leaders back smaller COVID-19 relief bill as pandemic escalates Republican senators urge Trump to dodge pardon controversies Grassley suggests moderate Democrats for next Agriculture secretary MORE (R-Iowa) has penned a stern letter to the World Health Organization (WHO) for being “slow to raise the global alarm" about the coronavirus outbreak, joining President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden says GOP senators have called to congratulate him Biden: Trump attending inauguration is 'of consequence' to the country Biden says family will avoid business conflicts MORE in pinning blame on the organization for the failure to contain the pandemic.

“Unfortunately, there is ample reason to question WHO’s response to early signs of this outbreak in China. The lack of independent analysis and advice in the face of initial misleading public messaging from China has resulted in several countries scrambling to make up for lost time,” Grassley wrote in a letter to Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the WHO.

Grassley notes reports from the U.S. intelligence community that China had concealed the extent of the coronavirus outbreak within its borders, lying about the total number of cases and deaths, and asks if the WHO “had reason to believe that the information China was providing was inaccurate.”

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The senior GOP senator asserted it is the international health organization’s responsibility to act independently and raised concerns about whether Chinese political influence had impacted the WHO’s response.

The WHO tweeted on Jan. 14 the dubious claim by Chinese authorities that “preliminary investigations” had “found no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission” of the coronavirus.

On Dec. 31, researchers in China had identified dozens of people that had been infected by a new virus, though it’s unclear that the virus was being spread by humans.

Grassley also notes the number of confirmed cases in China soared from 220 on Jan. 20 to 14,000 on Feb. 1, yet on Jan. 29, the WHO praised China’s efforts as “essential for preventing the further spread of the virus.”

Trump has also criticized the initial WHO response and even threatened to withhold U.S. funding, which makes up a big portion of the organization’s budget.

“We’re going to put a hold on money spent to the WHO. We’re going to put a very powerful hold on it and we’re going to see,” Trump told reporters Tuesday. “They called it wrong. They call it wrong. They really, they missed the call.”

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Tedros later urged world leaders not to “politicize” any mistakes the United Nations agency may have made.

“No need to use COVID to score political points. You have many other ways to prove yourself,” Tedros, who is from Ethiopia, said. “If you don’t want many more body bags, then you refrain from politicizing it.”

Other governments have criticized the WHO for being too ready to accept Chinese claims at face value. Japan’s deputy prime minister has called it the “Chinese Health Organization.”

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamBiden: Trump attending inauguration is 'of consequence' to the country The Memo: Harris moves signal broad role as VP Former US attorney asks for probe of allegations Graham pressured Georgia official MORE (R-S.C.) this week said “the whole world should send China a bill for the pandemic.”

U.S. officials including Deborah Birx, a member of the White House coronavirus task force, say that China’s misleading reporting influenced projections by other countries that underestimated the deadliness of the emerging pandemic.

“Rather than parroting Chinese propaganda and talking points, WHO should be making independent assessments,” Grassley wrote. “Like many of my colleagues in the U.S. Senate, I question Communist China’s ability and willingness to coordinate in a transparent manner with international bodies.”

The senator pointed out that Taiwan, which has strained relations with China, has been “largely shut out of global health discussions” despite its impressive track record in keeping coronavirus infections low.

Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that the WHO imposed “unfair restrictions” on Taiwan “based on political considerations,” Grassley wrote.

Taiwan had been allowed to participate in past WHO meetings with an observer status but that has been denied in recent years because of Chinese objections.

Grassley concludes his letter by asking the WHO to respond to a list of questions no later than May 1.

He wants to know whether the WHO was acting on independently verified information when it advised member countries about the pandemic in January and whether anyone contacted the organization to contradict information coming from the Chinese government.

He also wants to know whether the WHO heard from anyone at the end of 2019 about the “pneumonia-like outbreak” in China and why the organization subsumes Taiwan’s coronavirus statistics with China’s despite the two countries having entirely different governments.

Grassley reminded the WHO that the United States has been its largest contributor since 1948 and gave more than $400 million to it last year.

“I have an obligation to do my best to protect the health and well-being of U.S. citizens and to ensure proper oversight of U.S. monies contributed to international organizations,” he wrote.