Four months now into the global coronavirus crisis (at least, since it’s been publicly known outside of China) and countries around the globe are facing their own demons, directly or indirectly linked with the spread of the virus.
There’s one crisis in particular that I’m thinking about. It came to mind during a conversation with my wife about the medical system in Romania and how screwed we are should the virus spread. The concern was mainly because our local health system has been decimated by the departure of qualified personnel but also by corruption, which at some point led to an explosion on intrahospital infections (blamed on a contract for purchasing a very diluted sterilising solution). At one point, I blurted out “At least we’re not in the US”.
You see, there’s a lot that can be said about the decimation of the Romanian health system at the hands of the neocommunists of the populist Social Democratic Party, but politically, there was a will to act. Tests were ordered (we don’t lack test kits, we lack the processing capacity), an incremental shutdown plan based on the number of identified cases was made public, curfews announced and so on. Generally, the most stupid acts came from the public since the state can’t 100% protect people from themselves at all times (such as people diverting travel through countries with fewer cases even though they started off in Italy, for example, to avoid quarantine).
But … at least we’re not led by Trump. The Leader of the Free World, supported by the best intelligence agencies on the planet, aware of the virus (probably before China made it public), not only delayed action but also denied the reality of an impending pandemic (just before the WHO declared it at such, though it was obvious to everyone).
Still, the true shocker comes at the amount of responsibility that Trump denies but which any leader (nevermind the leader of country) should be assuming. Example: the issue of the “White House Office for global pandemics”. The office was scraped as an institution and while we can argue about technicalities (it wasn’t totally removed, but its attributions and most personnel were merged into another), the shocking thing is to see a president that simply denies responsibility and at the same time denies knowledge.
Top that with outright lies (yes, I count misinformation too) and the lack of action (lack of tests, no move yet to spike the production of medical supplies, criticising lockdowns and curfews in New York and California, suggesting medical staff to make up for lack of masks by reusing disposable ones) and the lack of leadership is staggering.
It’s not just that the US refused to learn and prepare following the SARS (another coronavirus) epidemic, but having had the same information as the rest of the world, you have Singapore, Hong Kong, Russia and Thailand closed down fast. South Korea added incremental restrictions but all the while testing like crazy. Not to mention that China, Russia, Singapore and Malaysia are doing great at clamping down on misinformation and frauds (China — well, state-sponsored coverups excluded).
But the US is a world away you say. Well, no. There’s no land border, sure, but given the sheer number of flights in the air, there’s direct constant contact at all times between most countries in the world. You can’t expect in the US (or Europe, for that matter) the kind of restrictions seen in China or Russia, but denying the seriousness of the situation until last week (and refusing the WHO specifications for the tests, delaying the production so that the CDC could develop their own) now has the coronavirus spread undetected (while Trump praises a state whose coronavirus hotline simply didn’t work, leading to no tests being carried at all).
Contrast that with New York governor Cuomo. Asked about the economic impact of restrictions in place, he simply says something to effect of: “if people don’t like it, let them hate me. I’ll take the responsibility”. None of that “it’s a nasty question” and deliberate avoidance of Trump. It’s no wonder some in the press already call out Trump for the lack of leadership.
Nobody’s tackling this perfectly (well, maybe China? It sure helps not to care about pesky things like human rights, freedom of movement and of speech) and surely the state can’t protect people from themselves but generally people respond better to leadership than to haphazard advice that doesn’t have coherence or logic .