Global action is necessary to combat COVID-19


By Carlton Joseph

Coronavirus

At this writing, the global tally of cases of the coronavirus has risen to more than 113,000 and more than  4,000 persons have died of the disease,

Sony Pictures  closed its offices in London, Paris and Gdynia, Poland after it was reported that one of its London employees may have been exposed to coronavirus.  Starbucks decided to stream its March 18 meeting online.  Abercrombie & Fitch has temporarily shut its Shanghai regional home office, in addition to its stores in mainland China and those in and around Milan. 

Italy  has ordered a total lockdown, Iran cancelled Friday prayers in major cities as the death toll from coronavirus rises, and passenger car retail sales in China, the world’s biggest auto market, fell 80 per cent in February because of the epidemic. 

A few weeks ago, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), declared the coronavirus a public health emergency of international concern and praised China for taking “unprecedented” steps to control it. 

“I have never seen for myself this kind of mobilization, China is actually setting a new standard for outbreak response,” he said.

Human coronaviruses were first identified in the mid-1960s.  On Jan. 7, 2020, Chinese health authorities announced that they had isolated a new virus spreading in Wuhan. This novel coronavirus was named COVID-19.

To date, a vaccine to prevent coronavirus infection is not available.

Canada has more than 78 cases of the virus, so far, mostly in Ontario and British Columbia.

 Federal Health Minister, Patty Hajdu, assured Canadians that officials are taking all necessary precautions, and that the government is working closely with provincial and territorial counterparts, and international partners, to ensure that the country is prepared to limit the spread of COVID-19 within its borders.

Dr. Srinivas Murthy,  a clinical associate professor  at the University of British Columbia who serves as the co-chair of the WHO’s clinical research team responsible for refining and implementing  several priorities related to clinical management of the outbreak,  believes that Canada is well positioned to respond aggressively and effectively, in  case the virus becomes pandemic.

Murthy says that Canada was pivotal in describing SARS, and researchers recognized that coronaviruses could be a problem in the future.  After SARS, the Canadian Institute for Health Research, has been involved in helping to co-ordinate the global response to the coronavirus, especially as it relates to research priorities, including the development of a preventative vaccine and therapeutic treatments.

Many in the United States believe that the US is not prepared to deal with the virus. This is because the Trump administration disbanded the pandemic infrastructure that was developed during the 2014 Ebola crisis.  In 2018, he ordered the shut down of the entire global health security units of the National Security Council (NSC) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) And, most of the staff of the global health section of the Center for Disease Control (CDC) was laid off.This action  has left the United States illprepared for the virus outbreak.

An independent, bipartisan panel formed by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) concluded that lack of preparedness was acute.  And that the “United States must either pay now and gain protection and security, or wait for the next epidemic and pay a much greater price in human and economic costs.”  The CSIS Commission on Strengthening America’s Health Security urged the US government to replace the cycle of crisis and complacency that has long plagued health security preparedness, with a doctrine of continuous prevention, protection, and resilience. 

What is more alarming is that the Trump does not seem to understand the potential scope of the virus.  He disputed death rate of the coronavirus as reported by the WHO. 

“I think the 3.4 per cent is really a false number. Now, this is just a hunch, but based on a lot of conversations with a lot of people that do this.  A lot of people will have this and it’s very mild. They’ll get better very rapidly. They don’t even see a doctor. They don’t even call a doctor. You never hear about those people,”  he said, asserting that those cases could not be included in the overall count of people who have contracted the coronavirus. 

Imagine, the leader of the most powerful country in the world dealing with a pending global crisis on a “hunch.”  I suppose this is why he eliminated the position of senior director for global health security and biodefense at the NSC.

Displaying his gross incompetence, Trump defended his huge budget cuts to the CDC during a press conference on the federal government’s response to the coronavirus. He said it was easy to bolster the public-health agency and cited his business approach toward running the federal government.   “I’m a businessperson. I don’t like having thousands of people around when you don’t need them.  When we need them, we can get them back very quickly,”  he said.

Trump concluded that some of the experts targeted by the cuts “hadn’t been used for many years, and that additional federal money and new medical staffers could be obtained swiftly since we know all the good people.”

Does Trump  really think that this is a construction project where you can  recruit laborers and other construction personnel easily?  Does he realize that medical scientists and researchers are in short supply?  And, pandemics do not wait for one to hire people?  Trump is either ignorant or does not care that Congress has to pass new laws to hire people, and then the agencies have to spend time interviewing and hiring them. 

Based on the epidemiological estimates of mortality and morbidity rates from the Ebola experience, it is estimated that the coronavirus may kill more than 14 million people and shrink global GDP by more than $500 billion.  Because of population densities, experts estimate higher numbers for worse case CORVID-19.

Last week the Congress passed an $8.3-billion emergency spending package for combatting coronavirus.  Pence announced that he is taking control and has surrounded himself with scientists and health officials, and things appear to be getting on track.

The coronavirus is now in 36 states  and the District  of Colombia and the government must come clean and let people know that  it is “not contained.” 

COVID-19 is not a political issue. It is a health crisis.  Trump needs to get rid of his deep skepticism of science and the federal government.  The administration should keep in mind that this is a crisis and manipulating information will erode the public’s trust. 

Let us  hope that this virus does not  become a pandemic and that the world would unite as one body politic to fight it.  Global action is  necessary because COVID-19 does not discriminate.  Let us also hope that our scientists and researchers can rapidly develop, test and deploy a vaccine that will combat this deadly virus..

 (Trinidad-born Carlton Joseph  who lives in Washington DC, is a close observer of political developments in the United States.)