Orthodox Jewish men move a wooden casket from a hearse at a funeral home in the Borough Park neighborhood which has seen an upsurge of (COVID-19) patients during the pandemic Photo: Getty Images

America faces ‘Pearl Harbour moment’ this week; Trump still promoting anti-malaria drug; Boris Johnson admitted to hospital; Irish PM to work as doctor as well

A million cases is so last week, huge doubt over data: A weekend is a long time for an exponential epidemic to do its mathematical work. Early today, New Zealand time, we are near 1.25 million cases of which nearly 325,000 cases are in the United States. So, that thing that was contained by limiting travel from China and wasn’t much worse than flu? It’s everywhere in America.

The detail: 6.30am NZ time, total cases on the Johns Hopkins University Covid-19 tracker, are: 1,249,107 with 67,999 deaths and 256,059 people who’ve recovered.  However, it’s increasingly clear the daily data hide almost as much as they reveal. With poor testing in the UK, the United States and many others – let alone the developing world – it’s clear infections are far greater than reported.

It’s all about him and them, and his son-in-law, and him again: As we expected and so often happens in any global event, the United States is sucking the air out of the story. The massive scale of the spread and incompetence of the national and many state responses beggars belief. It’s almost as though America ignored those weeks of forewarning from China and felt it could close its borders to a foreign virus.

Will it live in infamy? “The next week is going to be our Pearl Harbour moment,” the United States surgeon general, Dr Jerome M. Adams, said. (The New York Times). Not someone prone to exaggeration, Adams told Meet the Press television things were going to be difficult, doubling down on his rhetoric: “It’s going to be our 9/11 moment. It’s going to be the hardest moment for many Americans in their entire lives.”

A disaster foretold: No one should need reminding that President Donald Trump previously diminished the problem, belittled expert medical advice and said he wanted America back to work at Easter? Oh, OK. Try this excellent long read from the Washington Post on the catalogue of catastrophe: The US was beset by denial and dysfunction as the coronavirus raged

What a contrast: It’s also worth thinking about what the US crisis implies for the way the New Zealand Government has handled the spread of the novel coronavirus, albeit on a dramatically smaller scale. Lockdowns, virtually shutting the country to the outside world, and a leader who has been clear and aligned with her experts.

‘Get ready’ Anthony Fauci, the infections diseases expert who has been beside Trump at most of the White House briefings, pulled no punches about how critical the coming weeks were, telling Americans to “buckle down”.

Quote du jour: “This is going to be a bad week,” Fauci told the television news show Face the Nation, adding later: “It is going to be shocking to some, it certainly is really disturbing to see that, but that’s what’s going to happen before it turns around.” (The New York Times).

‘Slim suits and frat boys’: Against that background you may already be aware that Trump over the weekend deployed his son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, to front one of the White House news conferences. He delivered a blizzard of business buzzwords and questioned the competence of those battling the disease in an eerily bloodless performance. He’s put politically appointed members of his staff, the “impact team”, across government agencies reacting to the outbreak where the “slim suits” or “frat boys” do his bidding. (CNN)

‘He lost a lot’: Meanwhile, “Dr” Trump, was back promoting the prophylactic use of an anti-malarial drug also vital to treating lupus, which has been in short supply since he started praising its very much potential effectiveness – leading one Arizona man to die after using a version used to keep koi carp healthy.

Quote du jour: “What do you have to lose? What do you have to lose?” Trump said from the White House podium. “Take it,” he said of hydroxychloroquine. [I wrote about this and other “snake oil” last week. He also said he “may take it” himself, though he would “have to ask my doctors about that”. (The Guardian).

‘It’s voluntary’: If you think I might be overstating the perversity of the leader of the free world’s reaction to a crisis engulfing his own country from New York to New Orleans (The New York Times), here was the President’s response to new government scientists’ advice for ordinary people to now wear masks: “This is voluntary. I don’t think I’m going to be doing it.” (The Guardian).

In the real America, it’s grim: New York City remains the critical hotspot but New Orleans is not far behind and crowded New Jersey is struggling to deal with the critical cases and an ongoing lack of ventilators and other gear. Russia and China, yes, you read both of those right, have sent emergency shipments of medical equipment to help out the City That Never Sleeps. (The Guardian)

Yet the United States still saw fit to effectively hijack masks and other equipment bound for Germany from Thailand and divert it to the US in what German authorities called “modern piracy”. (The Guardian). I guess that makes clear why there isn’t an effective G7 or G20 response because it’s every man for himself.

‘The Chinese virus’: And, inevitably, as Trump and his followers accuse China of hiding the true extent of the virus where it originated, it turns out the US data may not be so hot either. The New York Times reported that many deaths attributable to Covid-19 are not being captured in official data meaning Americans are not seeing the true gravity of the crisis. (The New York Times).

“This probably happens all the time with different diseases, but this is the first time I’m paying attention to it,” Susan Perry, a funeral director, told The Times. “If we don’t know the numbers, how are we going to be able to prepare ourselves and protect ourselves?”

The world beyond: Meanwhile, in the rest of the world, the inability of many authorities to do what the WHO told them to do months ago and “test, test, test” is having its result. The UK is embroiled in a political row over its failure to launch mass testing (critical to any easing of the lockdown); Singapore has had a big spike in cases having been praised for its early testing and control; Italy’s daily death toll eased again; France’s death toll slowed. (The Guardian).

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson was admitted to hospital today after 10 days in isolation with Covid-19. There are as yet unconfirmed reports that he had pneumonia as a child. “On the advice of his doctor, the prime minister has tonight been admitted to hospital for tests,” a Downing Street spokeswoman told the BBC.

“This is a precautionary step, as the prime minister continues to have persistent symptoms of coronavirus 10 days after testing positive for the virus.”

And finally… Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar, still in office despite losing a recent election, said he would be going back to work as a doctor while still carrying out his duties as Taoiseach. Varadkar, who’s a bit of a Jacinda who seems to find the right words and convey authenticity, will work one shift a week mostly doing telephone assessments of people who think they might have been infected. (The Irish Times).

Peter Bale is a London-based journalist and media consultant who has worked for the Wellington Evening Post, Reuters, the FT Group, The Times of London, and CNN Europe.

Leave a comment