The Trump administration has formally notified the United Nations that it will withdraw from the World Health Organization (WHO), breaking ties with the international health body as the US death toll from coronavirus surpassed 130,000.
The US notice of withdrawal, effective from July 6 2021, was formally submitted to the United Nations secretary-general, the depository for the WHO, on Monday a senior administration official told The Telegraph.
The move was immediately critcised by Democrats with Joe Biden, the party's presumptive presidential nominee, pledging to rejoin the WHO on his "first day" as president if he is elected in November.
"Americans are safer when America is engaged in strengthening global health," Mr Biden said, saying he would "restore our leadership on the world stage".
Bob Mendez, a Democratic senator for New Jersey, revealed Congress had been notified of the WHO withdrawal on Tuesday as he criticised the move, pointing out that the country was still "in the midst of a pandemic".
"To call Trump’s response to Covid chaotic & incoherent doesn't do it justice. This won't protect American lives or interests - it leaves Americans sick & America alone," Mr Mendez said in a tweet.
Donald Trump first announced in May that he would be “terminating” America’s relationship with WHO, blaming its ties to China and indicating that the international body would get no more US funding.
The US president has blamed the WHO for failing to warn countries quickly enough about the dangers of coronavirus and not doing enough to make China be transparent about the outbreak, which began in the Chinese city of Wuhan.
Mr Trump had previously paused funding to the WHO, pending an investigation carried out by his administration into the body's handling of the Covid-19 crisis.
"Because they have failed to make the requested and greatly needed reforms, we will be today terminating the relationship,” Mr Trump said as he announced his decision in May.
He added that “China has total control over the World Health Organization".
Mr Trump said the US contributes about $450 million to the world body while China provides about $40 million each year.
The decision to formally withdraw has prompted criticism in some quarters, with Amanda Glassman, from the Center for Global Development, saying the move endangers “public health and well-being in the United States and around the world".
It comes as America's top infectious disease experts warned the country is still "knee deep in the first wave" of the coronavirus pandemic, as the death toll from the virus surpassed 130,000.
Dr Anthony Fauci, a key figure on the White House coronavirus task force, said that the record number of new cases the country had reported in the past week were “a serious situation that we have to address immediately.”
"We are still knee-deep in the first wave of this," he said in a Facebook live interview with Francis Collins, the National Institutes of Health Director.
The huge US death toll from Covid-19 makes up about a quarter of the global total, and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has forecast that it could climb to 160,000 later this month.
Hospitals in Texas are preparing to meet capacity amid a surge in coronavirus cases that has caused hospitalisations from the disease to more than double over the last two weeks.
As of Monday, nearly 8,700 people were in hospitals in the state and officials in major cities such as Houston, San Antonio and Austin fear their hospitals risk becoming overwhelmed within a fortnight.
The state reported more than 9,000 new Covid-19 cases on Monday according to a New York Times database, surpassing a record-high figure on Saturday.
SCHOOLS MUST OPEN IN THE FALL!!!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 6, 2020
Hospitals across the Sun Belt continue to be flooded with coronavirus patients, with Arizona reporting a new high of more than 3,300 cases on Tuesday and its ICU units reaching 89 percent capacity.
Miami, another hot spot for infections, has imposed a mask wearing requirement and ordered some businesses to close, with penalties imposed on those who do not comply.
The White House has played down the surge, attributing the rise in new cases to an increase in testing for the virus.
However, more states are also reporting a troubling increase in the percentage of coronavirus tests that come back positive - a key indicator of community spread.
Two dozen states, mostly in the South and West, have averaged positivity rates over the past week exceeding 5 per cent, a level the World Health Organization considers to be concerning.