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Thursday, Oct 22, 2020

Never mind China, look to the US for the next big coronavirus crisis

Yonden Lhatoo contrasts what China has done to contain the Covid-19 epidemic with how little the US is doing, warning that American complacency may turn out to be the real threat to the world

I know the world is not done yet with crucifying China for the coronavirus crisis, and much of the bad press is justified, given how this contagion was inaugurated by a country with total control over information and a track record of cover-ups.

But let’s take a breather from all the xenophobic hysteria and victim-blaming for a calm, calculating look at what China has done so far in containing the epidemic to understand how the dynamics have changed and why the time has come for other countries to snap out of the schadenfreude and realise they cannot afford to throw stones any more while living in glass houses.

After locking down entire cities and placing tens of millions of citizens under quarantine, China’s authoritarian government has managed to put a lid on the proliferation of Covid-19 to quite an extent.

For the first time since the outbreak began more than two months ago, the Hubei province epicentre had no new cases to report – except ground zero in Wuhan – for two days in a row this week.

The daily number of new infections across mainland China fell below 100 on Saturday. Hospitals packed to the rafters with Covid-19 patients just a couple of weeks ago have empty beds to show now.

All this is because the country is on a war footing, with the World Health Organisation acknowledging it as “perhaps the most ambitious, agile, and aggressive disease containment effort in history”.

And now, with the global total of coronavirus cases topping the 100,000 mark, China is closing its borders to arrivals from other countries that pose a threat. Don’t miss the irony and implications of what’s happening here – China may have given this disease to the rest of the world, but now it’s making sure the rest of the world doesn’t give it right back.

“Woefully unprepared” was how America’s largest nursing union summed it up in a recent warning to the government about “a fragmented and broken public health infrastructure” that would not be able to cope with a crisis of this magnitude.

The US has reported fewer than 300 infections so far because diagnostic testing for Covid-19 is being conducted at a fraction of the scale it should be. Not even 2,000 have been tested so far, compared with more than 140,000 in South Korea, which has set up fast food-style, drive-through testing stations – a novel concept Americans would probably embrace if their government could get its act together.

It doesn’t help that Trump has been making recklessly irresponsible claims about the disease and lulling Americans into a false sense of security by routinely disputing scientific data and offering personal opinions that directly contradict public health advice. He has suggested, based on personal “hunches”, that the disease will “miraculously go away” with the onset of summer, that it’s mostly “very mild”, that many people recover without having to see a doctor, that hundreds of thousands will get better “just by, you know, sitting around and even going to work”.

While Trump has been criticised for treating the epidemic as more of an obstacle to his re-election campaign than a wider threat to humanity, that self-centred approach itself may well be the catalyst that finally spurs him on to protect American lives. He’ll do anything to win a second term, and if that means wiping out this scourge blocking his way back to the White House, maybe it’s just as well.

Otherwise it may soon be time to start placing incoming Americans under quarantine. After China, it could be America’s turn next to face mistrust and derision from the international community.


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