“Don’t travel on cruise ships due to coronavirus risk, State Department urges”. (4)
Nearly 300 million students worldwide face home quarantine, UNESCO claiming “the global scale and speed of the current educational disruption is unparalleled and, if prolonged, could threaten the right to education.” (5)
A new “Pandemic Projection Model” has predicted 2.16 Million Deaths in the US, stating that “emergency measures must take place to avoid catastrophe”. (6)
A study by The Australian National University in the “best case scenario”, coronavirus will claim 15 million lives and shave $2.4 trillion off the global GDP. Under the worst case scenario, it would kill more than 68 million people and slash $9 trillion from the global GDP. (7)
The World Health Organization raised its global risk assessment from “high” to “very high”, stating, “This virus may be on its way and you need to be ready. You have a duty to your citizens, you have a duty to the world to be ready. Wake up. Get ready.”
The World Bank announced a financial package of up to US$12 billion to assist countries with the health and economic impact, this coming one day after the IMF and the World Bank stood ready to help member countries address “the human tragedy and economic challenge posed by COVID-19”. (8)
US National Health Care Departments: Purification by Purging
“About 2 years ago when he was still in the White House as national security advisor, John Bolton abruptly disbanded the government officials responsible for dealing with pandemics, global health security and bioterrorism. Apparently the health security bureaucracy is fragmented across various agencies, which means the White House has significant control over national health security.
This would explain the strange behavior and response of the CDC and other ostensibly independent government agencies. They’re fragmented and dependent on White House direction. This also seems like it would be a ripe environment for funny business by elements of the national security state. If health security is fragmented across various agencies and subject to White House control and can be easily kept out of the loop of things, there’s a greater probability that black ops could be implemented without worry of whistleblowers and the like.” (9)
The Washington Post said this
“comes at a time when many experts say the country is already underprepared for the increasing risks of a pandemic . . . “, and quoted an official as saying, “Health security is very fragmented, with many different agencies. It means coordination and direction from the White House is terribly important”. The point was that Bolton’s stated plans to “streamline the NSC” really amounted to a serious “downgrading of global health security”. (10)
The US government’s strategy is to control information, transparency and freedom of speech. The White House has directed health officials and scientists to coordinate all statements and public appearances with the office of Vice President Mike Pence, according to the NYT. (11)
There are more signs of disorganization as officials debate how to handle the cruise ship off the coast of California carrying 3,500 people . . . “We shouldn’t have 16 people saying what the plan is … particularly when it hasn’t been fully formulated,” coronavirus task force member Dr. Ben Carson said on ABC’s “This Week.” (12)
On March 7, Wired ran a story titled,
“Trump’s Coronavirus Press Event Was Even Worse Than It Looked”, a reporter stating Trump’s “remarks at the CDC . . . were misguided, misleading, and show how misinformation could hamper Covid-19 containment efforts. . . . The president’s statements to the press were terrifying. It was full of Dear Leader-ish compliments, non-sequitorial defenses of unrelated matters, and – most importantly – misinformation about the virus and the US response. That’s particularly painful coming from inside the CDC, a longtime powerhouse in global public health now reduced to being a backdrop for grubby politics.” (13)
In the opinion of the New York Times,
“the confusion typified the struggle by the Trump administration to project confidence and progress without misleading the public about the virus’s spread.”
These statements would appear abject failures in ‘projecting confidence’ but succeeding admirably in “misleading the public”. (14)
The Global Times said the US have messed this up but won’t admit it. They aren’t ready to face any emergency, revealed in the confusion of contradictory official statements, delayed announcements and a lack of transparency. (15)
In March, media reports that the White House is confusing the country with multiple mixed messages about all aspects of the coronavirus, especially with the testing. The Trump administration claimed 1 million tests would be available within a week, but White House officials then stated the number could be much lower, and Dr. Stephen Hahn, commissioner of the FDA, said at a Senate hearing that he was “hearing from private manufacturers” that 2,500 test kits might be available . . .” But according to the same report, these private-sector test kits “would not increase the capacity of individual labs to perform the tests”, meaning that even if tests are available, the private labs haven’t the staff or expertise to perform the tests, even assuming the quality is of acceptable standard. (16)
To further confuse the public, the number of available test kits and of people tested, varies according to the health official asked, from several hundred to tens of thousands to millions. Secretary of Health & Public Services Alex Azar added further to the confusion by saying it was unclear which states and/or facilities would receive the new tests, stating, “Right now… it is a challenge if you are a doctor wanting to get somebody tested.” (17) On one day, the White House promised 4 million coronavirus test kits “by next week”, but on the same day, US Vice-President Mike Pence said (a) “any American would be able to be tested for the coronavirus” but (b) “acknowledged . . . the capacity wasn’t there yet.” The meaning? There is no meaning. (18)
Then, the CDC “strongly” encouraged doctors to “test for other causes of respiratory illness such as the flu, before . . . a coronavirus test.” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, chief of Infectious Disease at Massachusetts General Hospital, said helpfully that “someone could potentially have the coronavirus and the flu at the same time”. In other words, don’t test for the coronavirus. Blame deaths on the flu.
The CDC set strict criteria on who can receive the tests, and even critically-ill patients have remained untested because the CDC refused to test those not fitting the criteria – which included anyone not having traveled to a “highly-infected area” like Wuhan or South Korea. As I noted in an earlier article, a California hospital was refused a test even for a patient who had been on a respirator in ICU for five days – because she didn’t fit the CDC ‘criteria’.
Dr. Sarah Turbett, a microbiologist and infectious disease specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital, said “We’re only testing people who are the sickest . . .” The CDC said on one day that 472 tests (in total) had been conducted, but the figure was removed from the CDC’s website the next day. Admiral Brett Giroir, the US Assistant Secretary of Health, said the mortality rate was far lower than previous estimates because “there had been a significant underreporting of cases”.
On March 4, the NYT claimed that the coronavirus “could have been spreading [in Washington State] for as long as six weeks before the first case was detected”, and that the CDC appears to not have been prepared for the outbreak. Not only not prepared, but, as the Global Times pointed out, “Washington has been focusing more on minimizing the influence of the virus on stock market confidence” than on public health. (15) US policymakers are giving the economy priority, and believe that Americans should endure the emergency on their own.
To further confuse the public, the CDC stated that California has only a handful of labs competent to administer the test, but that this would be increased to perhaps 20 “in the coming weeks”. It was reported that only the CDC had the capacity to administer these tests but apparently – and inexplicably – was not doing so. The media reports stated the CDC “sends kits to laboratories ‘designated as qualified’ by the CDC, which included only a few local laboratories – and the Department of Defense.
Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, downplaying the threat, said,
“This is not Ebola. It’s not SARS, it’s not MERS. It’s not a death sentence.”(11)
But then, adding measurably to the confusion, was Trump’s request for $1.25 billion in funds for this crisis, with Congress within two days instead volunteering $8 billion, passed with “sweeping bipartisan support” – for a supposedly non-existent virus that represents “no threat” (according to Trump), and which requires no face masks nor even testing. (19)
National Nurses United Director Bonnie Castillo denounced what she called the “disturbing” lack of preparation, claiming that nurses had no necessary protective equipment and no education or training for dealing with the virus. In startling contradiction, The CDC continued to stress that the overall risk to the public was low and are urging people not to buy masks. (19)
Dr. Stephen Hahn, the commissioner of the FDA, said at a Senate hearing that the CDC was working with a private manufacturer to drastically increase the testing capacity of US laboratories. Hahn claimed that “a million coronavirus tests should be available” within a week, stating that he was speaking to some company who was “scaling up” their production, this claim progressively deteriorating until Hahn finally admitted that perhaps only 2,500 test kits might be available within that time.
The NYT revealed that an official Public Health source claimed American labs would be able to conduct “about 10,000 tests a day when all of its 100 members [were fully operational]. But China is able to conduct nearly 1.5 million such tests, and at an undisputedly world-renowned level of accuracy, but the US has – in three months – tested somewhere between 300 and 3,000 people, and even small countries many tens of thousands per week. (20)
Medical authorities said China could provide about 350,000 nucleic acid reagent test kits every day, which could fully meet the US demand. The director of Beijing Zhimed Medical Science said that although ordinary Americans “cried out for Chinese test kits”, . . . US politicians have heavily politicised the virus and were reluctant to introduce Chinese test kits in part “to save face”, as well as hoping to reduce the strategic rivalry from the more competent Chinese bio-tech sectors. (15)
Treasury Secretary Mnuchin said the Trump administration was “closely monitoring the coronavirus and its effect on . . . markets and the broader economy”. However, Mr. Mnuchin was quick to add that Trump was not considering rolling back or suspending its tariffs on Chinese imports to mitigate the economic effects of the coronavirus, however serious they might be. Representative Richard Neal of Massachusetts, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said that “any stimulus package should be centered around infrastructure investment . . .”, failing to explain how repairing a collapsing bridge would lessen the effects of a virus infection. (21) (22)
That means the US government and the CDC are abandoning their responsibility to the public, waiting for private firms to learn how to manufacture a reliable test kit from which they can reap the insurance rewards. It is an almost inescapable conclusion that, since the first test versions were unreliable, the CDC is biding its time until American manufacturers can finally produce profitable and reliable tests.
The CDC’s policy and its flawed response, conflicting recommendations, and allocation of materials for epidemic prevention, have sparked controversy on US social media.
Various media articles detailed the growing anger over the CDC’s recommendation to not wear masks and the US politicising of the coronavirus. On Feb. 28, the CDC released a video on its official Twitter account entitled “COVID-19: Should I wear a mask?”, in which the CDC discouraged people from using face masks. “The CDC’s recommendations were immediately questioned or slammed by the American public on social media, with many claiming that the irresponsible remarks [were] risking people’s life by not encouraging basic protection.” (23)
Many raised doubts about the credibility of the CDC, stating that “the organization is no longer worth their trust”. One person posted, “Everybody I know that works in healthcare is taking some home for their families and stashing some away. I trust the healthcare workers and their instincts over the agency who refused an infected citizen a test”. Another wrote, “Isn’t it what you say with flu shots? Surgical masks can filter out up to 80%, N95 up to 95% or even more of viruses. Flu shots are 50% effective this year, but you still push for it. Isn’t it contradictory, everyone?”
California Governor Gavin Newsom announced the state is monitoring 8,400 people who arrived on commercial flights. According to Newsome, “We’re not just preparing – we’ve been actively participating in addressing this issue for many months, aggressively.” (24)
But at the same time, an American journalist, Julia Lindau expressed her shock that there were no checks whatsoever for coronavirus after she landed at JFK airport having returned from Italy. She posted the following:
“I just landed at JFK after reporting on coronavirus in Milan and Lombardy – the epicenter of Italy’s outbreak . . . I walked right through US customs. They didn’t ask me where in Italy I went or if I came into contact with sick people. They didn’t ask me anything.”
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar stated that more test kits would be produced – pending quality control, at which point Trump cut off Azar to say,
“But I think, importantly, anybody, right now and yesterday, that needs a test gets a test. They’re there, they have the tests, and the tests are beautiful. Anybody that needs a test gets a test. The tests are all perfect. And you know what? The whole world is relying on us.” (25)
When a reporter began a question, Trump cut her off to say,
“I like this stuff [the virus]. You know my uncle was a great person. He was at MIT. He taught at MIT for, I think, like, a record number of years. He was a great supergenius, Dr. John Trump. I understand that whole world. I love that world. I really do. I love that world. I like this stuff. I really get it. People are surprised that I understand it. Every one of these doctors said, “How do you know so much about this?” Maybe I have a natural ability. Maybe I should have done that instead of running for president.”
“We have a perfectly coordinated and fine-tuned plan at the White House for our attack on Coronavirus. We moved VERY early to close borders to certain areas, which was a Godsend. V.P. is doing a great job. The Fake News Media is doing everything possible to make us look bad. Sad!” (26)
“It seems unlikely that every scientist at the CDC marveled at the president’s scientific acumen. Earlier in the very same press conference, the president admitted that he didn’t know that people died of the flu. At a meeting at the White House, people had to explain to Trump that a flu vaccine wouldn’t also work against SARS-CoV-2.”
On March 6, facing sharp questions about the lack of test kits and the CDC’s admission that its initial test kits were flawed, Trump inexplicably blamed decisions by former President Obama for the problems.
“The Obama administration made a decision on testing that turned out to be very detrimental to what we’re doing. And we undid that decision . . . so that the testing can take place in a much more accurate and rapid fashion.”
But in fact Obama did nothing, all regulatory changes being left for Trump’s administration. (27)
Trump’s chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, told an audience that the coronavirus was the “hoax of the day”, a comment which Pompeo refused to deny. At a campaign rally Trump described the virus as Democrats’ “new hoax” after the Russian investigation and his impeachment trial, then criticised the media for exaggerating the danger.
CNN published a blistering criticism of Trump and his misinformation policies in dealing with this virus.
“President Donald Trump’s trusted method for winning his battles – flinging disinformation, alternative facts and biting attacks at his enemies – is being exposed . . . The President’s confidence . . . contrasts sharply with increasing anxiety being expressed by top public health experts in his administration. It also raises questions about his capacity to lead in a time of crisis . . .” (28)
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Larry Romanoff is a retired management consultant and businessman. He has held senior executive positions in international consulting firms, and owned an international import-export business. He has been a visiting professor at Shanghai’s Fudan University, presenting case studies in international affairs to senior EMBA classes. Mr. Romanoff lives in Shanghai and is currently writing a series of ten books generally related to China and the West. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org. He is a regular contributor to Global Research.