close
Advertisement
Can't connect right now! retry

add The News to homescreen

tap to bring up your browser menu and select 'Add to homescreen' to pin the The News web app

Got it!

add The News to homescreen

tap to bring up your browser menu and select 'Add to homescreen' to pin the The News web app

Got it!

March 26, 2020

The virus and the US

Opinion

March 26, 2020

I have just returned to Washington DC after a month-long trip to Pakistan and Bangladesh. Concerns about the coronavirus had started to emerge when I left home.

But coming back to the US now feels like we have returned to a completely changed landscape. Having traveled through several airports we are self-isolating for 14 days at home. It is hard to turn on any TV or radio channel without being deluged with facts and figures about the spread of the virus.

On Saturday, there were 20,000 confirmed cases in the country. The number on Sunday had already risen to 31,000. There is no way to know the accuracy of these numbers, since testing kits are scarce and many people who want to get tested are unable to do so.

A week ago, I had heard that the situation in the US is following the trend seen in Italy but that is just two weeks behind. It is hoped that with education, social separation and other interventions, the US will be able to avoid or at least mitigate such an outcome.

At the same time, there is a feeling the country may have lost a precious 6-8 weeks during which mitigation steps could have been initiated. The Washington Post has reported that US intelligence services had warned the White House back in January of the seriousness of the outbreak in China, and that it was only a matter of time that the disease would reach the US. A warning that was clearly not taken seriously.

It was also reported by the Washington Post that on February 11 a detailed briefing on the matter was given to the Senate Intelligence Committee. Yet, the public wasn't warned, even though many members of the committee quickly moved to sell their investments anticipating a market crash.

Until as recently as two or three weeks ago, President Trump was minimizing the seriousness of the contagion saying things in the US were “under control.” He even went on to say that as the weather gets warmer in April the virus will disappear miraculously.

Right-wing media outlets such as Fox News were repeating similar lines. Many of their opinion programmes were going as far as to say the entire thing was a hoax created by Democrats to hurt the reelection chances of president Trump. Now that the undeniable truth is out in the open, they have changed their tune.

However, much damage may have already been done. A recent poll by Pew Research, a reputable research company, demonstrates how the matter was unwisely politicized. According to this poll, 70 percent of Democrats believed the virus is a serious threat but only 55 percent of independents and 40 percent of Republicans thought so. It is easy to imagine how such discrepancies in taking the threat seriously would have affected behaviour of citizens.

Finally, in the last few days, President Trump has started to hold detailed press briefings, accompanied by other senior officials and medical experts. Even in these there is an effort by the president to taint the entire matter with political and ideological beliefs. He has continually called the disease the “China virus” and has made a big deal of the need to shut down borders.

Labeling the virus “China virus” also risks Chinese American citizens coming under threat. But, spreading divisiveness never bothered Donald Trump. Demonizing the ‘other’ has always been a cornerstone of his politics.

This is a time when the country needs a trustworthy leader who would rise above politics and lookout for the safety and interests of all. It remains to be seen if the president will morph into such a leader any time soon.

The writer is a freelance contributor based in Washington DC.

Website: www.sqshareef.com/ blogs