The White House held a rare press conference Feb. 26, trying to calm financial markets after fear of a COVID-19 outbreak caused the largest stock market tumble in years. President Donald Trump painted a rosy picture of the situation in the U.S., contradicting the national health officials who were lined up alongside him.
Wall Street markets — already jittery over the looming capitalist crisis of overproduction — lost $3 trillion immediately following an announcement by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) declaring a national health emergency. Investors are terrorized by the prospect of an epidemic, not for humane reasons, but because of its potential impact on profits.
Trump didn’t mention at the press conference that, in 2018, his administration disbanded a global health security team whose job it had been to implement a national biodefense strategy, or that he cut the budget for global health by 20 percent.
Nor did he mention that Vice President Mike Pence, whom Trump appointed to head his “task force” on COVID-19, blocked life-saving measures to stop the spread of HIV during his tenure as Indiana governor.
As China has been battling the disease, epidemiologists and scientists repeatedly warned that all countries should prepare for an outbreak. The number of new COVID-19 cases has slowed in China, but the virus has now reached 44 other countries, and the World Health Organization (WHO) reported Feb. 26 that the number of new cases outside China had exceeded the number in China for the first time.
Western politicians’ and media’s slander of China and articles of gloom and doom have fed racist, anti-Asian violence in places where infections have occurred or been feared, from the San Fernando Valley in California to New York City, from Manchester, England, to Italy, France and Australia.
China’s campaign to control the virus has been at great cost: medical staff risking and losing their lives but bravely carrying on, public transportation shut down, millions of people confined to their apartments, workplaces halted and an economic loss of $196 billion in January.
But there was no hesitation. The Chinese people knew what had to be done. Their historic actions were enabled by a planned, centralized social system put in place by the 1949 revolution, and by unity in the face of the crisis.
China’s war against the virus is looking more successful every day, as the daily count of new cases has slowed. The sacrifices made by the Chinese people have bought time for the rest of the world.
U.S. health care system unprepared
WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has expressed numerous times that his biggest concern has been the spread of the virus to countries that are less capable of controlling it than China is.
One might have interpreted his remarks to refer to impoverished countries with capitalist economies so drained by imperialist exploitation — their health care systems battered and weakened by budget cuts imposed by the International Monetary Fund. Of course, the danger is great in impoverished countries.
But as William Haseltine pointed out in a Feb. 24 L.A. Times Op Ed, the U.S. has shown itself to be in a health care crisis with every influenza outbreak: “Just two years ago … patients seeking treatment … found themselves in ‘war zones.’ Hospitals turned away ambulances, imported nurses from elsewhere and erected parking lot tents when they ran out of beds. Surgeries had to be canceled and hospitals ran out of supplies.”
The fatalities from COVID-19 are roughly 2 percent, or 2,000 out of 100,000 infections. That is far less than those of the outbreaks of related infections like SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and MERS (Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome) earlier in this century that took the lives of 25 percent and 34 percent of those infected, respectively. But it’s more than the annual outbreaks of influenza that take the lives of 14 out of 1,000 infected patients.
Had China not moved so boldly, the worldwide death toll could have been catastrophic. Nearly 90 percent of COVID-19 cases result only in mild symptoms. Ironically, that coupled with the fact that human to human transmission of the disease can happen almost immediately after the infection, makes the disease extremely difficult to contain, because many people think they have a cold and continue with normal work and social interaction.
All of this points to the enormous challenge that the Chinese people have faced and validates their plan to make containment the first order of business.
China prioritizes virus containment
In addition to a strategy of keeping workplaces closed and a quarantine that at its peak affected 100 million people to varying degrees, drones sprayed disinfectant on the streets of Wuhan and broadcast messages encouraging people to stay indoors. Food was delivered to people’s doorsteps.
Although Western media accused the Chinese government of not being transparent in its efforts to combat the virus, this video posted on YouTube is an example of the material released to explain the crisis in scientific terms, the timeline of events, and offer guidelines to help curb the outbreak.
Interviews with quarantined people and medical staff show what a hard time it has been for the Chinese people, but also the confidence that they have in the Chinese Communist Party leadership.
The People’s Liberation Army staffed a newly built hospital — one of two new hospitals built for COVID-19 patients in record time. International help was solicited by the Chinese leadership, including a delegation of scientists from the World Health Organization, and medications to help with treatment were sought and received from other countries.
Notably, revolutionary Cuba, one of the world’s pioneers of biotechnological medicine despite the brutal U.S. economic blockade, has provided a medicine with antiviral properties that is being used in treatment.