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Backlash against Trump exiting WHO as world virus cases top 6M

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by Celine Le Prioux with Daniel Lawler in Paris and AFP bureaus

US President Donald Trump faced a broad backlash on Saturday over severing ties with the UN’s health agency during a pandemic, as coronavirus cases worldwide topped 6 million and infections surged in Latin America.

The EU urged Washington to reconsider its decision to permanently cut funding to the World Health Organization over its handling of the pandemic, which has killed more than 366,000 people and devastated the global economy.

On Saturday, confirmed novel coronavirus cases worldwide surged past six million, according to an AFP tally.

“Now is the time for enhanced cooperation and common solutions,” the European Union said in a statement, adding: “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 COVID-19 emerged late last year.

On Friday he moved to make that decision permanent in a major blow to the agency. The US is WHO’s biggest contributor, supplying $400 million last year.

German 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”.

Lawrence Gostin, a professor of global health law at Georgetown University and a WHO collaborator, questioned Trump’s ability to withdraw from the agency without congressional approval, saying the threat was “unlawful, reckless and dangerous”.

– ‘People going hungry’ –
Trump’s announcement came as the virus progresses at different speeds across the globe.

There has been pressure in many countries — including protests attended by hundreds in Rome and Milan on Saturday — to lift crippling lockdowns, despite experts’ warnings of a possible second wave of infections.

In Britain, set to begin lifting its lockdown in two days, senior advisors to the government warned that it was moving too quickly.

“COVID-19 spreading too fast to lift lockdown in England,” tweeted Jeremy Farrar, a member of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE).

India said Saturday it would begin relaxing the world’s biggest lockdown in stages from early June, even as it marked another record daily rise in infections.

Iran meanwhile announced that collective prayers would resume in mosques, despite infections ticking back upwards in the Middle East’s hardest-hit country.

But with infection numbers falling in many of Europe’s most affected countries, the push to restart economies was gaining steam.

Italy’s iconic Leaning Tower of Pisa reopened on Saturday, while in Paris, parks and the famed Galeries Lafayette department store flung open their doors.

The Greek government announced flights from additional EU destinations, including France, would be permitted without strict quarantines from June 15.

But countries in Latin America are bracing for difficult weeks ahead, especially Brazil, where the poor have been hit particularly hard.

Brazil has suffered nearly 28,000 deaths, and with more than 465,000 cases it trails only the 1.7 million cases registered in the US.

“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 works in the impoverished Sertao region of Brazil’s northeast.

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

– Culture, sport start to resume –
A world away, the famed Chenonceau chateau opened in France’s Loire Valley ahead of Parisians being allowed to travel beyond 100 kilometres (60 miles) from home on Tuesday, when the country will further ease measures.

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

In a normal year, Chenonceau greets one million visitors.

In Austria, hotels and cinemas were allowed to take in customers, provided they wear masks.

“It is very important that things return to normal,” film buff Rotraud Turanitz said at Vienna’s historic Admiral Kino cinema on trendy Burggasse.

Across the Atlantic, the US capital Washington resumed outdoor dining, while on the West Coast, restaurants and hair salons in Los Angeles reopened.

New York City, the worst-hit American city with some 21,500 coronavirus deaths, is on track to begin reopening the week of June 8.

The overall US death toll has topped 103,000 and continues to rise.

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, and the NBA eyeing a July 31 return.

Britain approved the return of domestic competitive sport on June 1 — with no fans present — and South Africa gave a provisional green light for training to resume.

– Economies shattered –
The economic damage from weeks of lockdowns continues to pile up, with Chile and Peru securing credit lines worth billions from the IMF.

India’s economy grew at its slowest pace in two decades in the first quarter, while Canada, Brazil, France and Italy also saw their GDP figures shrink ahead of an expected worldwide recession.

Even the animal world has not been left untouched — though that’s exactly what authorities in Gibraltar want, banning tourists from touching the British enclave’s famous Barbary macaques over fears they could spread coronavirus.

Singapore’s beloved otters meanwhile have been popping up in unexpected places during the city-state’s lockdown, but their increasingly daring antics have angered some and even sparked calls for a cull.

“I simply don’t understand anyone who could not like them. They are really cute,” said 35-year-old Singaporean Pam Wong.

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