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A diary of a failure to act (Part 2)

This continues my blog post from last weekend. It is taken from a journal I kept of events as they happened in the US, as Covid 19 began to infect people. This post deal with notes from February and March 2020 and are in my own words as events unfolded. You will appreciate, it's written in the present tense and I have included no supporting images, given it is just a transposition of my Journal notes.


Let me begin by saying, I speak and observe as a member of the global community. It's easy in the heat of the moment, to be confused by the blizzard of misinformation, as those in power look to deflect blame for inaction. So it’s important to step back and break down the facts in a non-partisan manner. There is much speculation as to what Trump knew when, but if it’s one thing we know for sure, a virus doesn’t wait for you to prepare for it’s arrival. So I thought I would step back and look purely at the facts in terms of the timeline. Where I have used quotes, they are his actual words on camera. No quote has been taken out of context and represents the narrative of the President of the United States. By way of context, it is suggested that the first case in China dates back to *November 2019.. However, for sake of argument, let’s assume it was mid-December before it began to appear on the radar of the Chinese government.

In their defence, they reacted in the same way subsequent governments reacted. It was this failure to respond, that allowed it to infect people and spread. Given that China didn’t quarantine Wuhan until 22nd January. I think it safe to say, that this delay was driven primarily by economic considerations. If you look at the reaction time of government, it is really no different to the reaction time of those in charge of subsequently infected counties. But if you recognise the rest of the world had the benefit of seeing what was happening in China, it is a major failing, that action on subsequent breakouts was not taken seriously until they were beyond control. The blame game has already started as cries for reparations begin. Whatever your feelings about China, the advantage they had, was that the state speaks and it is so. As a result, they were able to lock things down very quickly and throw the power of the state into the fight against the virus. It could certainly be argued that this limited the export of the virus. Unfortunately, global spread was inevitable, given the time it took to lock things down.

On December 30, Li Wenliang, a Wuhan doctor, informed fellow doctors in an online chat group, of seven disturbing new pneumonia cases. However, the authorities attempted to suppress his observations. So let’s assume the Chinese government and the rest of the world knew there was a potential major problem from this point on. Sadly that doctor paid with his life and for that the world owes him a debt of gratitude. To recap, for at least 22 days, life in China went on largely as normal in terms of travel, both domestic and international. On January 18. the number of infected patients in Wuhan had risen to 62, but the city government still held an annual mass public banquet in Baibuting with some 40,000 families making and sharing food. Given how infectious the virus is, the pandemic fuse had been lit. From this point on, what happened next was down to the rest of the world. On 10 January, scientists had publish the first gene sequencing data on the virus, showing it to be from the same family as the SARS coronavirus. So, even before the Wuhan lockdown, the science was there for the global science community to begin to formulate a response. By 5 February cases had been reported in 27 countries, clear evidence of how infectious the virus was. There has much been said about the numbers coming out of China, but the reality is, we knew it was there, so do the numbers really matter?


On 30th January, Trump stated ‘we have it under control’ as the first cases appeared. It was a classic case of ‘it won’t happen to us’.


On 2nd February in a laughable statement on Fox News, Trump said “Well we’ve pretty much shut it down coming in from China…” almost as if the virus had been refused entry to the US! At this point, he was still calling it the Coronavirus and not the Chinese virus. To his credit, it has to be said, that had he not shut down access to travellers from China it would have spread much quicker. However, this intervention was effectively negated by his subsequent failure to respond to the threat. The fox was already in the chicken coop. In Italy by the end of January, the belief was, that the virus had been circulating for a couple of weeks. However, Italian authorities also believed they had it under control. On February 10, the president once again played things down, suggesting there were only 11 cases and “…we are in great shape”, indicating that by April the warmer weather would see it off. At this point, the clock had probably been ticking for at least a week or so. However, opportunities to take preventative measures had not been adopted. On the 14 February, the president moved the focus as you would expect to himself, stating “..61% of the voters approve of his handling of the corona virus…” and highlighting his action to stop travel from China to the US. What he forgot to mention, was that anyone who arrived before his ban, had unwittingly already began infecting US citizens. (we now know that the primary infection actually came from Europe, through New York)

By February 19, Trump was claiming that China had done 'a great job' and that he was sure “The numbers are going to get progressively better as we go along…”. There was no suggestion that the government needed to take any specific pre-emptive action other than to wait for warmer weather. On 23 February he stated once again, that things were under control and that there had been no deaths. On February 26, he seemed to take comfort in the fact that the seasonal flu kills between 25,000 to 69,000 people each year, compared to the 15 people suffering from the virus. He then went on to add “..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.” Now, not only was he President of the United States, he was a profit too. Just 24 hours later he said, “We have a situation with the virus, we’ve done a great job, but the press won’t give us credit for it”. On 28 February he accused the democrats of politicising the virus and emphasised that it was all about strong borders, suggesting he would keep the infected out of the country. Only problem was, it was in had been in the country for a month and it had not been brought in by immigrants, but rather from legitimate international travellers. On 29 January, the president had announced the Coronavirus Taskforce had been formed, this had been the first real indication that he was now taking the matter seriously. It is no coincidence, that this had been as a result of falling markets a few days earlier. The bottom line, is that the president was doing everything he could to downplay the impact in an effort to stop the markets from falling over a cliff.


On 5 March in a Fox Town-hall event, he once again wanted to talk about poll numbers and of his handling of the problem, talking of “rave reviews”. However, while he was patting himself on the back, the virus was spreading undetected because the president had forgot to mention, the reason there were so few cases, was because nobody was being tested. This was despite claims that this was not the case. On 6 March, the president said “Anybody right now, or yesterday, anybody that needs a test gets a test, they’re there and the tests are beautiful…” In the same statement he said of the people on the Grand Princess cruise ship, "I like the numbers being where they are. I don't need to have the numbers double because of one ship". I had to think about this. Was he saying people on a highly infected cruise ship should stay where they are, in order to keep the number of cases down? So, if you have the virus on a cruise ship, does the virus also make you disappear? Maybe the way to reduce the cases is to gather all the positive cases, commandeer all cruise ships, dump them onboard, then we can get America back to work!! On March 9, Trump said “This was something we got thrown into…”. Having been thrown into the situation, on 10th March he said “..It will go away, stay calm..”, he then proceeded to send a message to corporate America “we want to protect our shipping industry, our cruise industry.. we want to protect our airline industry, very important…”

By 11 March there were indications that he was being forced to take it even more seriously. He stated, “ we’re hitting a patch and now we’re going to have to do something with respect to getting rid of this virus as quickly as possible”. Later that same day, he laid out measures to block entry from Europe. By this stage, the virus was already rampant and infected travellers from Europe had been entering the US for weeks. 24 hours later, the president said “..think of it, the United States because of what I did and what the administration did with China, we have 32 deaths at this point” On 13 March he declared a national emergency. It seems clear to me, that this was primarily an economic reaction to devastating market falls. By 16 March, there were clear indications that the virus had really started to take hold, largely because the US didn’t take the threat seriously until it hit the markets. This was almost a month too late. Now a light had been shone on the administration’s handling of the situation and he was asked by a reporter “ on a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your response to this crisis?”, without hesitation the president replied “I’d rate it a 10, I think we’ve done a great job..” in the same statement he said this “..It seems to me that if we do a really good job, we’ll not only hold the death down to a level that is much lower than the other way, had we not done a good job.” He might as well have made that statement in swahili, as it would have made as much sense. So here it is ;

Inaonekana kwangu kwamba ikiwa tunafanya kazi nzuri sana, hatutashikilia tu kifo hadi kiwango ambacho ni cha chini sana kuliko njia nyingine ikiwa hatujafanya kazi nzuri

On the day he made this statement, there were 1850 reported cases. This was because of a 2 out of 10 testing effort. By the end of March, his 10 out of 10 effort resulted in 177,000 cases and 3,800 deaths. He also made another interesting comment in his statement “…We have a problem that a month ago nobody ever thought about” The truth is, if his administration had given some thought to it, there would be far fewer grieving families in the US. Only now were social distancing measures being introduced. Whilst this was absolutely the right thing to do, it was a month too late, which in epidemiology terms is catastrophic.

Tomorrow's post will be the final notes in my journal and take us to where things were just rampaging out of control. Stay sage out there and thanks for stopping by.


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