Irobiko Chimezie

COVID-19: When Trump got it wrong

The White House campaign-style video promoting President Donald Trump’s defense of his actions combating the emerging coronavirus threat earlier this year skips over his actions during the entire month of February, when he often downplayed concerns.

At the end of January, Trump imposed restrictions on travel from China where the virus first erupted. By mid-March, he declared a national emergency.

“This is a pandemic,” Trump said at a March 17 news conference. “I felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic.”

But in February, as the coronavirus threat grew across the world, and the first cases emerged in the United States, Trump belittled the threat.

Now, the president is trying to defend himself against news accounts showing that he was warned in February about the advance of the virus in the United States, even as he publicly dismissed concerns and said health officials had it under control.

Critics say February was a missed opportunity to move faster to recommend that Americans stay two meters away from other people, a position Trump adopted in mid-March and then extended through April. Later, he said Americans should consider wearing face masks in public, though he said he had no intention of wearing one.

The coronavirus death toll in the U.S. is now more than 23,000, with more than 582,000 confirmed cases. Both figures are more than in any other country, although this week officials say the number of new cases is leveling off, suggesting that the coronavirus threat may have reached a peak in the U.S.

Here are some of Trump’s comments in February about the coronavirus:

Feb. 10 at the White House: “Now, the virus that we’re talking about having to do – you know, a lot of people think that goes away in April with the heat – as the heat comes in. Typically, that will go away in April. We’re in great shape, though. We have 12 cases, 11 cases, and many of them are in good shape now.”

Feb. 23 to reporters: “We have it very much under control in this country.”

Feb. 24 on Twitter: “The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA. We are in contact with everyone and all relevant countries. CDC & World Health have been working hard and very smart. Stock Market starting to look very good to me!”

Feb. 26 at the White House: “So, we’re at the low level. As they get better, we take them off the list, so that we’re going to be pretty soon at only five people. And we could be at just one or two people over the next short period of time. So, we’ve had very good luck.”

Feb. 26 at a news conference: “And again, when you have 15 people, and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero, that’s a pretty good job we’ve done.”

Feb. 27 at a White House meeting with African American leaders: “It’s going to disappear. One day – it’s like a miracle – it will disappear.”

Feb. 29 in a speech to conservatives: “And I’ve gotten to know these (health care) professionals. They’re incredible. And everything is under control. I mean, they’re very, very cool. They’ve done it, and they’ve done it well. Everything is really under control.”

In early March, ahead of his national emergency declaration in the middle of the month, Trump continued to downplay the threat to the U.S.

On March 9, he tweeted, “So last year 37,000 Americans died from the common Flu. It averages between 27,000 and 70,000 per year. Nothing is shut down, life & the economy go on. At this moment there are 546 confirmed cases of CoronaVirus, with 22 deaths. Think about that!”

A day later, he told Republican senators, “We’re prepared, and we’re doing a great job with it. And it will go away. Just stay calm. It will go away.”

At Monday evening’s news conference where the three-minute video highlighting his response to the coronavirus was played, Trump dismissed omission of his February comments and instead assailed CBS News reporter Paula Reid for asking about it.

“The month of February,” Reid said. “That video has a gap, the entire month of February. What did your administration do in February with the time that your travel ban bought you?”

“A lot,” Trump replied.

“What?” Reid asked.

“A lot,” Trump said. “And in fact, we’ll give you a list of what we did. And in fact, part of it was up there. We did a lot.”

“It wasn’t in the video,” Reid said. “The video had a gap.”

“Look. Look. You know you’re a fake,” Trump replied. “You know that? Your whole network, the way you cover it is fake.”

Trump’s reelection campaign later said that during February his administration moved to disperse testing kits to coronavirus hot spots in the country, cut red tape to start development of a vaccine, which may be a year away from development, and made its first emergency funding request to Congress.

As the emergency became apparent in the U.S., Trump signed into law a $2 trillion coronavirus rescue package to send money to about 90% of Americans, aid 17 million laid-off workers and assist hard-hit businesses that have been severely affected by the pandemic.

WHO explains why coronavirus was renamed COVID-9

The World Health Organization (WHO) has announced that “COVID-19” will now be the official name of the deadly virus from China, saying the disease represented a “very grave threat” for the world but there was a “realistic chance” of stopping it.

“We now have a name for the disease and it’s ‘COVID-19’,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told journalists in the Swiss city of Geneva on Tuesday.

The announcement came as the death toll in mainland China has now reached more than 1,000, after 108 people died from the virus on Monday – the highest daily toll since the outbreak began late last year in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.

Tedros said that “CO” stands for “corona”, “VI” for “virus” and “D” for “disease”, while “19” was for the year, as the outbreak was first identified on December 31.

The WHO chief said the name had been chosen to avoid references to a specific geographical location, animal species or group of people in line with international recommendations for naming aimed at preventing stigmatisation.

Referring to some governments’ counterterrorism measures, Tedros said: “To be honest, a virus is more powerful in creating political, economic and social upheaval than any terrorist attack.

“A virus can have more powerful consequences than any terrorist action. If the world doesn’t want to wake up and consider this enemy virus as Public Enemy Number 1, I don’t think we will learn from our lessons,” Tedros said.

The agency has appealed for sharing of virus samples and speeding up research into drugs and vaccines.

“The first vaccine could be ready in 18 months. So, we have to do everything today using the available weapons to fight this virus while preparing for the long term using the preparations for the vaccines,” Tedros said.

“If we invest now … we have a realistic chance of stopping this outbreak.”

Stigmatisation

The agency had earlier given the virus the temporary name of “2019-nCoV acute respiratory disease” and China’s National Health Commission this week said it was temporarily calling it “novel coronavirus pneumonia” or NCP.

Under a set of guidelines issued in 2015, WHO advises against using place names such as Ebola and Zika – where those diseases were first identified and which are now inevitably linked to them in the public mind.

More general names such as “Middle East Respiratory Syndrome” or “Spanish flu” are also now avoided as they can stigmatise entire regions or ethnic groups.

According to China’s National Health Commission, the total number of deaths on the mainland due to the virus as of Tuesday was 1,016. Meanwhile, 42,638 infections have been reported. The vast majority of deaths and infections are in Wuhan and the surrounding Hubei province.

Two deaths have been recorded outside mainland China – one in Hong Kong and one in the Philippines.

At least 25 countries have confirmed cases and several nations have evacuated their citizens from Hubei.

Masks shortage, a major setback in the fight against coronavirus

As the coronavirus spreads in China, everyone seems to be running short of facial masks. Pharmacy shelves were scooped bare. E-commerce sites see their stocks gone in seconds. Even doctors battling against the virus had to recycle their masks due to limited supply.

As fear of the virus strains supplies, mask factories across China cancelled their Spring Festival break and rushed to increase production. In its latest press conference on Sunday, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology said that by Monday the daily production capacity of mask factories would bounce back to 60 percent of the figure before the Lunar New Year holiday.

Yet the acute shortage of masks persists.

“In the past, only those who are frail or those under special working conditions wear masks. But now, everyone wants to wear a mask and what’s more, they want to have a few extra to hoard,” said Wang Yu, deputy head of a mask factory in Beijing who preferred not to reveal the name of the factory because he is not authorized to speak.

His factory saw a huge jump in orders in late January. But due to a shortage of raw material supply during the Spring Festival holiday and travel control to contain the coronavirus outbreak, he cannot resume production as of now.

While a lack of surgical masks are reported in hospitals at Wuhan, the epicenter of the coronavirus epidemic, the shortage of N95 masks, advised by doctors as essential for those who interact with their patients, is much more severe.

There is a pretty low skill threshold to producing surgical masks: It is a highly automated business that relies on machines to process raw materials. The difficulty, however, lies in the production of filters, the thing that enables N95 masks to filter out small particles from the air.

“There are thousands of mask factories in China, but companies that are able to produce high-end filters up to the N95 or KN95 standard, number less than 10,” Wang told CGTN.

Coronavirus

Tianjin Teda Corporation is one of the biggest producer of filters in China. Around January 20, three days before the central China city of Wuhan was locked down, the company’s order for a single day exceeded more than two million tons, almost an equivalent of its usual one-month’s order.

“We did not stop production at all during the Spring Festival break. We promised our workers three times their normal wages to get them back to work during the holiday,” Hu Jun, chairman of Tianjin Teda Corporation, said in an interview with CGTN.

Filters produced by his company can now sustain the production of seven million masks per day, 35 percent of the daily mask production capacity in China.

Liu Jie, vice president of a company based in central China’s Hunan Province, which also manufactures filters, said her company resumed production on Wednesday, cutting the Spring Festival holiday short due to high demand from mask producers.

Though her company had stocks for some clients, she said the difficulty lies in transportation. “We now require our clients to pick up the materials because there is no way for us to ship the orders.” Delivery companies, on the other hand, cannot handle such a huge sum of products, she added.

On top of that, since some inter-provincial highways are blocked, raw materials need to be shipped by air, Wang, the mask producer said. “But the problem is, we are talking about tons of materials which cost of delivery by air would be exorbitantly high.”

Teda Corporation, on the other hand, was one of the lucky few that managed to ship tons of filters via highways in the curtailed traffic system. That was because they received assistance from the municipal government when shipping masks to the quarantined city of Wuhan.

Across China, all levels of central, municipal and provincial governments have vowed to assist producers of protective equipments in filling in the raw material supply gap, recruiting labor force and logistics coordination. A temporary redistribution system was also set up to ship production from major factories nationwide directly to the epicenter of the crisis in Hubei Province.

“As far as I know, almost all big mask factories are now responsible for alleviating the mask shortage for people in Wuhan and other regions of Hubei province,” Wang said. “Major factories are responsible for production, not for sales.”

On Sunday, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology said a review of available protective equipment shows that there is still a large gap between the production capacity of factories and the surging demand from the public. By far, the need of Wuhan and other regions of Hubei Province should be prioritized.

The shortage of masks almost struck everyone by surprise in China. Before the coronavirus hit, the country was the world’s largest producer of masks, accounting for 50 percent of annual production in the world.

The number of mask factories grew almost overnight as demand for masks to protect against PM 2.5 surged in the early 2010s. Before 2013, China was home to 500 mask producers. That number grew to more than one thousand in two years.

But the mask industry was not in good shape in years preceding the coronavirus outbreak. As a war against pollution was declared, major polluters, e.g. steel factories, coal mines, and cement factories, were closed or required to adopt measures to curb pollution, and thus the demand for masks dwindled.

“We lost many clients during those years… and we have a really low profit margin,” Wang said looking back to the past few years.

There are signs that the shortage of masks is to be addressed. The government of Hangzhou announced on Sunday that residents can get up to five masks for free after reserving. The local government of Xiamen in East China’s Fujian Province launched a lottery system for mask purchases. In Shanghai, residents can sign up to buy up to five masks.

Experts are also appealing to the public to save the N95 masks for medical professionals. Zhang Wenhong, head of the Shanghai medical team batting the coronavirus, said in an interview with CCTV that surgical masks are good enough for average citizens. “It is not necessary to wear a N95 for an average resident on the street,” he noted.