US keeps public in dark over COVID-19

By Yang Sheng and Cao Siqi Source:Global Times Published: 2020/3/12 23:08:40

US irresponsible, opaque, selfish, disorganized: analysts

US Vice President Mike Pence gestures as he attends a press conference on the COVID-19 at the White House in Washington D.C. March 10, 2020. The number of COVID-19 cases in the United States have topped 1,000 by 11:30 pm EST Tuesday (0330 GMT on Wednesday), reaching 1,001 with 28 deaths, according to the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University. (Xinhua/Liu Jie)

The US has become a major risk for the global coronavirus pandemic, as US officials continue to adopt an opaque, irresponsible, selfish and "laser-like focus on the economy" approach to the outbreak in the country that could undercut global efforts to address the global public health crisis, Chinese analysts said on Thursday. 

Even as the deadly virus continues to spread across the US, there are increasing signs of flaws and loopholes in the US government's response, including efforts to conceal information about the epidemic, possible failure to differentiate the coronavirus from the common flu, and attempts to shift blame on others with racist rhetoric, analysts noted, urging Washington to play a more responsible role in the global fight against the virus.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director Robert Redfield on Wednesday acknowledged that some flu patients may have been misdiagnosed and actually had coronavirus. His comments made the American public, already frustrated over the government's slow response, even more worried about the actual US epidemic situation. It also points to a question on how big the black hole is in the country's COVID-19 outbreak and how many loopholes in its response are yet to be exposed.

The White House ordered meetings where officials discussed labeling the coronavirus as a classified case, which in effect barred information and delayed the government's response, Reuters reported Wednesday, citing four Trump administration officials.

A fifth source familiar with the meetings said the HHS (the Department of Health & Human Services) staffers often weren't informed about coronavirus developments because they didn't have the required clearances. The source said he was told that the matters regarding the coronavirus were classified "because it had to do with China," Reuters reported.

"The US always said it highly values human rights and constantly requires other countries to share such information with it, and has launched baseless accusations against China, accusing China of hiding data on the virus. As the COVID-19 outbreak is occurring on its own soil, it is trying to keep others in the dark. What a strong proof of US hypocrisy," Shen Yi, an international relations expert from Fudan University in Shanghai, told the Global Times on Thursday.

When confirmed cases were first reported in China's Wuhan, the local government made mistakes and the Chinese government quickly realized these errors and implemented effective self-correction. But now "it's extremely reasonable for the world to be worried because US policymakers are repeating our previous mistakes and they don't believe they're wrong," said Lü Xiang, a research fellow on US studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing.

"Due to such misconduct and irresponsible behavior toward epidemic prevention and control, the situation in the US is getting worse," he noted.

Low transparency 

The US is not only keeping other countries in the dark, but also trying to hide facts from its own people because the government gave priorities to the economy and stock market at the cost of people's lives. US President Donald Trump repeatedly blames the media and the opposing Democrats for "exaggerating" the impact on his twitter accounts.

On Thursday, Trump announced a new travel ban for European arrivals except for the UK and tried to calm the public by blaming other countries as anxiety reaches an all-time high in the nation. The rhythm of daily American life is being disturbed - with schools closing, the NBA suspended, hospitals on high alert and movie icon Tom Hanks saying he and his wife have the disease, CNN reported.

US Vice President Mike Pence's coronavirus task force stated at a press conference on Monday that the federal government does not know the results of 900,000 US residents who have been tested for the contagious condition citing the reason there is no way to effectively keep track of the tests processed by non-public labs and hospitals.

The latest data released by the US CDC on Wednesday shows that there are 938 total cases and 29 deaths, but due to the lack of thorough screening across the country, low efficiency for new updates and uneven capabilities of testing among different states, the data may not be credible and useful to the public.   

Some US mainstream media outlets like CNN and the New York Times will calculate data in different hospitals and release their own version of the data which might differentiate from the CDC's statistics. According to the New York Times' statistics on Thursday, total cases in the US have surpassed 1,200, much more than the CDC's 938.

More ironically, many US residents need to spend $3,000-4,000 to conduct tests, and the US professional economic website asked "How much does it cost to get tested for the coronavirus? Unfortunately, the answer could depend on how good your insurance is."

Shen said the US government can't announce the results from the tests, and even now, US residents are still concerned about the hefty price to get tested in hospitals, while people in China can be tested by spending only $6, so the question begs if the US health system is "serving its people or the interests of giant pharmaceutical corporations?" 

Photo taken on March 3, 2020 shows US dollar banknotes in Washington D.C., the United States.(Xinhua/Liu Jie)

Blame or cooperate? 

Blaming China is a common tactic that US politicians use to cover their mistakes, such as spreading rumors or accusing China of "low transparency" and always tricking people into believing that the virus originates from China. 

However, on Wednesday the director of the US CDC said some deaths from the coronavirus have been discovered posthumously, CNN reported. 

When asked if some people in the US are actually dying of coronavirus rather than influenza, CDC director Robert Redfield replied that "some cases have actually been diagnosed this way in the US today." It means COVID-19 may have probably occurred in the US before being spotted in China due to the US being unable to test and verify differences from the flu.

At Thursday's routine press conference, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang urged some US officials to focus on responding to the COVID-19 epidemic and promote cooperation, instead of blaming China and denigrating Chinese efforts after White House national security adviser Robert O'Brien blamed China's viral response likely costing the world two months to contain it. 

Many US politicians are holding very misguided opinions on China as they believed that COVID-19 will strike China only and economically benefit the US and Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross is not the only one among them holding such opinions, said Lü.

"They are using a strategically competitive mindset to deal with a pandemic that could harm everyone, so it's almost impossible for these politicians to conduct sincere cooperation with China, and that's why they are being harmed. We never expected the US to assist us, but based on humanitarian principles, China won't say no if the US asks, but I don't think US politicians trust us," Lü said.

Anarchy in the US

The US stock market's dramatic steep decline recently has showed that investors are becoming anxious, and not just because of oil prices, but also the epidemic situation. If the US failed to effectively contain it, the world economy would see greater impacts, Lü said

The ban of arrivals from Europe and the selfish treatment of foreigners stranded on the Grand Princess ship showed that the US is always putting its own interests first and has no sense of international responsibility, Chinese experts said.

Twenty Chinese nationals from the mainland were on board the Grand Princess cruise ship. Some Chinese passengers holding US "green card" disembarked and returned to their home in the US.

The Chinese Consulate General in San Francisco voiced their concerns that the US does not allow foreigners without US green card to go ashore, and has urged the US and the cruise company to fulfill their obligations and make appropriate arrangements to ensure the health of Chinese staff and passengers to protect their legitimate rights and interests, the Consulate General said in a statement published on its website on Wednesday.

If the US can do this to foreigners, it's not difficult to imagine if the situation is getting worse in the US, other countries may impose travel bans on the US, and even states within the country may also enact travel bans on each other, and this could bring more chaos and even anarchy, said Lü. "The world should be worried about the situation in the US."

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