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The spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Manchester The spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Manchester 

Britain pledges 200 million to criticized WHO and agencies

Britain has pledged hundreds of millions of dollars to charities and the World Health Organization, which has come under U.S. pressure over its handling of the coronavirus pandemic. The announcement came while British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has been suffering from the virus, said he "owed" his life to British medics.

By Stefan J. Bos

With much of the world's population facing a lockdown or other restrictions, Britain's government announced an Easter present of 200 million pounds ($248 million), in the global battle against the coronavirus pandemic. The government said 130 million pounds would go to United Nations' agencies, with 65 million for the World Health Organization, the WHO.

Another 50 million pounds is for the Red Cross to help war-torn and hard to reach areas, and 20 million pounds is going to other groups and charities.

In a statement, British aid minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan said: "Assisting the most impoverished countries now would help prevent the virus from returning to the United Kingdom."

Britain has reported almost 10,000 deaths from the coronavirus so far, the fifth-highest national number globally. Among those suffering is Prime Minister Johnson. He said Sunday that he "owes his life" to the staff of Britain's state-run National Health Service.

The 55-year-old was rushed to St. Thomas's Hospital in central London a week ago, suffering from persistent symptoms of the disease caused by the new coronavirus. On April 6, he was moved into intensive care, where he remained until April 9.

British expertise

Minister Trevelyan said British expertise and funding would also be needed around the world to prevent a second deadly wave reaching the country. 

The minister stressed that the virus does not respect country borders. It was, therefore, in the interest of the British public, she said, "to support the healthcare systems of vulnerable developing countries too."

The cash would help areas with weak health systems such as war-ravaged Yemen, which reported its first case on Friday. Another nation receiving aid is Bangladesh, which is hosting 850,000 Rohingya refugees in crowded camps.

However, Britain's massive support for the WHO contrasts with the view of U.S. President Donald Trump. He has criticized the agency's handling of the COVID-19 crisis and suggested his administration might re-evaluate U.S. funding.

That lead to an angry response from the WHO's Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. "Please do not politicize this virus," Tedros said in fiery remarks Wednesday.

Urging unity

He called for unity across the globe, saying the virus will exploit cracks in political parties, religious groups or between different nations to spread even more widely. "If you want to be exploited and if you want to have many more body bags, then you do it. If you don't want many more body bags, then you refrain from politicizing it," Tedros stressed.

In separate remarks, the WHO chief welcomed what he described as "Britain's generous contribution," as in his words, "protecting health around the world will help to protect the health of people in the U.K."

More than 1.6 million people are reportedly infected by the new coronavirus worldwide, and officials say deaths have topped 100,000.

Infections have been confirmed in 210 nations since the first cases were identified in China in December last year.

Listen to the report by Stefan Bos
12 April 2020, 13:59