Merkel defends WHO in G-7 leaders call after Trump’s attack

Josh Wingrove and Patrick Donahue

German Chancellor Angela Merkel defended the work of the World Health Organization on a conference call with President Donald Trump and the rest of the Group of Seven leaders.

The leaders spoke Thursday as some prepare to begin easing restrictions aimed at containing the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The chancellor made clear that the pandemic can only be defeated with a strong and coordinated international response,” her spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said afterward in a statement. “In this context, she expressed full support for the WHO as well as a number of other partners.”

Markus Soder, Prime Minister of Bavaria, left, Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel, center, and Peter Tschentscher, First Mayor of Hamburg, speak at a press conference in the Federal Chancellery, Berlin, Wednesday April 15, 2020.

Trump, the host of this year’s G-7, said Tuesday that he’s temporarily halting funding to the WHO for taking China’s claims about the coronavirus “at face value” and failing to share information about the pandemic as it spread. The White House didn’t immediately provide a statement.

The G-7, which is skipping the conventional in-person leaders’ summit this year, offers a snapshot of how countries are grappling with the dilemma of how quickly to ease restrictions. Move too fast and they risk a second wave of infections.

Facing reelection in the fall, Trump has said he’s anxious to reopen the world’s largest economy as soon as it’s safe the do so and will release guidelines later Thursday on how certain states can reopen.

In Germany, Merkel has started the slow process of reopening the economy, though restrictions are set to remain for months.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte is considering plans to ease restrictions, while French President Emmanuel Macron has extended his and said the country was underprepared. The U.K. is expected to extend its nationwide lockdown and Japan is doing the same, as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s support sags. Canada’s Justin Trudeau has warned restrictions could last for weeks.