US AWOL on global stage as it becomes new epicenter of coronavirus

LHC Group’s Bruce Greenstein elbow bumps with President Donald Trump during a news conference about the coronavirus in the Rose Garden at the White House, Friday, March 13, 2020, in Washington. (Photo by AP)

A little over a month after President Donald Trump claimed that the coronavirus was pretty “much under control,” the United States has officially become the new epicenter of the global pandemic.The COVID-19 cases in the country have reached a grim milestone, surpassing those in China, and the death toll continues to skyrocket by the day.

As of Sunday morning, there are currently more than 123,100 COVID-19 cases in the US, and more than 2,220 have died.

Doctors and healthcare workers nationwide have warned of dangerous shortages in essential medical equipment such as ventilators, crippling their ability to respond to the crisis. In some hospitals, doctors have had to reuse protective gear such as masks, gloves, and gowns, putting themselves and patients at risk of infection.

Conditions are especially dire in New York City, with hospitals struggling to keep up with the disturbing surge of new cases. The city’s morgues are also expected to reach capacity by next week.

Trump mused Saturday about a mandatory two-week quarantine for New York, where more than half of the coronavirus cases have been reported. However, the president backed down on Saturday evening, tweeting that the measure “would not be necessary.”

How did the US get to this point?

For weeks, Trump had downplayed the severity of the coronavirus and avoided taking action to stop its spread in the United States. The president even wrote off media coverage of the outbreak as a political “hoax” designed to hurt his brand. Meanwhile, America lost crucial time that could have helped medical professionals get an early jump on a coordinated response.

As the sheer magnitude of the outbreak now threatens to overtake the entire US healthcare system, Trump has finally begun to change his tone, saying that he has always seen the coronavirus as a grave threat. But the damage has already been done. Even now, rather than take responsibly, Trump and his advisors are still blaming China for mishandling the outbreak and allegedly suppressing information about the virus.

The Trump administration’s response has been characterized by misinformation, missteps and bureaucratic infighting. Refusing to tell people the truth will cost lives because it undercuts containment practices like social distancing. It also erodes the public’s trust in government.

Has Trump undermined US healthcare system?

Since taking office, Trump has taken steps that, according to experts, have undermined the nation’s ability to effectively deal with a public health crisis: He has shut down the White House’s entire global health unit, ignored warnings that the US is unprepared to deal with a pandemic, and proposed budget cuts for Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Health and Human Services. The most recent mistakes include manufacturing failures in diagnostic testing and the decision to test too few people for the coronavirus.

The Trump administration also eliminated a key American public health position in Beijing that could have informed US officials of the outbreak of the coronavirus in China in its early stages. Dr. Linda Quick, a medical epidemiologist embedded in China’s disease control agency, left her post last July.

While President Trump had initially suggested that the coronavirus outbreak was inconceivable, public health experts and intelligence agencies had for years warned that the US would sooner or later face a widespread infectious outbreak and was woefully unprepared.

The shortage in ventilators has become an emergency across America, forcing doctors to make life-or-death decisions for coronavirus patients.

“We definitely saw the problem,” said Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, who ran the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from 2009 to 2017. “We innovated to try and get a solution. We made really good progress, but it doesn’t appear to have resulted in the volume that we needed.”

Efforts to develop and build sufficient quantities of easy-to-use ventilators at a reasonable price have been hampered for years by bureaucracy and the federal government’s decision to outsource medical projects to private companies.

Is the US headed into a recession?

The coronavirus crisis has sent the economy into a tailspin in the US and around the world. Millions are facing unemployment and businesses are in a steep decline. The tourism industry has effectively ground to a halt. So have restaurants, air lines, hotels, gyms, and cruise lines.The stock market has posted enormous losses and trading has come to a standstill. Americans are producing less, spending less, and consuming less.

The unpredictable path of the pandemic has drawn parallels with the Great Depression of the early 1930s that began with a major stock market crash and ultimately squashed the US economy.

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin has warned that the coronavirus pandemic could drive the unemployment rate to 20 percent.

The Federal Reserve chairman, Jerome Powell, has suggested that America may already be in recession, but has given no assurances on how long the country will be partially shut down.

“We think of a depression as a recession that is very, very deep and very, very long. That’s the kind of thing that could happen,” he told NBC’s Today program on Thursday.

Some economists have been less reserved in their comparison to the Great Depression.

“The shock to the global economy from COVID-19 has been both faster and more severe than the 2008 global financial crisis (GFC) and even the Great Depression,” said Nouriel Roubini, a NYU professor who was the top White House economist in the Bill Clinton administration.

President Trump, who is anxious about the political fallout of an economic downturn in an election year, said early in the week that he wanted businesses across the country to reopen by Easter. The call provoked warnings by doctors and healthcare providers that the president’s flouting of the guidance of public health experts could put millions of Americans at risk and throw hospitals into even more chaos.

How could this impact Trump’s reelection?

Just a few months ago, Trump seemed pretty sure of victory in the November presidential election. Democratic efforts to impeach the Republican president had failed and backfired,support from his base remained steady and, most importantly, the economy was doing well. At campaign rallies, Trump bragged about his stewardship of a strong economy,which is often a recipe for re-election.

But the coronavirus hit and everything changed. Trump is no longer running against the Democratic candidates like former vice president Joe Biden. He is now running against a virus he has so miserably mishandled.

The November election could become a referendum on President Trump’s handling of the pandemic, especially if it creates a full-blown economic crisis. There are already indications that the election will take place with an economy undergoing the worst surge in employment ever seen.

Will Trump be blamed, justifiably or otherwise, for an economy in recession and millions losing their jobs? Or will the claim that he is a “wartime president” stick?  Voters will decide come November.

Will the coronavirus reshape global order?

President Trump and his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, have taken to using the phrase “the China virus” to describe the COVID-19, prompting angry reactions from Beijing that Washington is politicizing a global pandemic.

Observers warn that the two world powers could be heading into a new Cold War that would seriously impede efforts to fight the coronavirus and salvage the global economy.China hawks in Washington see the pandemic as a chance to pile up pressure on a fast-growing China, which in their eyes, seeks military, economic and technological domination over the United States.

Regardless of the blame game, the coronavirus is testing the status of the US as a global power. As Washington falters on domestic governance and coordinating a global response, China is maneuvering to position itself as the global leader.

Even though life in China has yet to return to normal, Beijing is working to turn its relative success at battling the virus into a larger narrative that places China at the center of the global recovery.

“China’s signature strength, efficiency and speed in this fight has been widely acclaimed,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian, adding that China has set “a new standard for the global efforts against the epidemic.”

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