While the New York Times prides itself on publishing emails from officials within the Trump administration that apparently portray a lack of decisiveness, what it succeeds in showing is that faith in science has severe limits.
One of the more important participants in the email chain that the paper obtained under Freedom of Information legislation was Dr. Carter E. Mecher, a senior medical adviser at the Veterans Affairs Department who helped write a key Bush-era pandemic plan.
In email after email, he questioned why the World Health Organization and the Center for Disease Control were downplaying the corona virus outbreak in Wuhan, China.
Another participant was Dr. James Lawler, an infectious disease doctor at the University of Nebraska who served in the White House under President George W. Bush and as an adviser to President Barack Obama. He predicted in an email the virus would become an epic pandemic.
That a number of knowledgeable people understood the risks of the Wuhan virus is not particularly newsworthy.
After all, there were a number of knowledgeable laymen who were questioning the downplaying of the viral outbreak in China and calling for suspension of air travel to and from China long before the WHO made that recommendation.
At the time, however, any suggestion that this virus outbreak posed a real threat to world health was immediately attacked as lacking in scientific rigor and smacking of racism.
To suggest now after the virus has clearly become a pandemic that the Trump administration’s response to the outbreak did not fully appreciate the risks is a gross misrepresentation of what actually happened.
There is no question that the CDC’s initial response to news of the viral outbreak in Wuhan was lackadaisical. At the end of January, the CDC was more concerned about the flu epidemic sweeping the United States.
This story from The Washington Times published on January 30, pretty much sums up the scientific consensus at the time.
The irony, of course, is that while the WHO, the CDC and the medical community was downplaying the risks posed by the Wuhan virus, President Trump was actually taking action.
Trump used his executive powers to suspend entry by Chinese nationals into the US and struck a committee to address the threat posed by the virus.
In addition, the president highlighted the risk of the virus in his State of the Union address in early February – the very one that Speaker Nancy Pelosi tore up immediately after it was delivered.
So it is not the president’s response that ought to concern us. It is the WHO’s and CDC’s responses that are problematic.
Remember, too, how people reacted to China’s authoritarian measures.
Why did the WHO downplay the threat posed by the virus?
Was it because its director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus is beholding to China and did not wish to embarrass his Chinese sponsors?
Was Tedros duped by the Chinese Communist Party who lied and suppressed vital information?
These are vitally important questions. For better or worse, the CDC and other national health agencies take their cue from the WHO. If the latter says a viral outbreak is not a concern, then the outbreak will not be treated as a concern by anyone else.
This is why the origins of the SARS-CoV-2 virus are so important.
Imagine how different the response would have been if Chinese health officials had said the virus had infected a laboratory worker, that the Wuhan virology lab had been working on the corona virus, that it was in the community in late November, that it was spreading widely in December.
Conspiracy theory? Not likely.
New research shows the Wuhan virus attacks T-cells in the same way that the HIV virus attacks the body’s first line of defense. That is unlike any other SARS virus.
The Chinese government is now busily deleting files relating to the origins of the virus and telling Chinese researchers they cannot publish studies without the express permission of the party.
Why the lack of transparency?
Why the secrecy?
In 2003, Gro Bruntland the then director of the WHO lambasted China for its lack of transparency.
Nothing has changed in the years since.
If anything, China is even more worried about the public relations disaster that a pandemic originating in one of its cities can produce.
Little wonder. The current pandemic has virtually destroyed the global economy.
All of which begs the question: What are politicians to do if when told to follow the science, the very science they are supposed to follow has been corrupted by greed?
Trump acted before any other Western leader. He was attacked as a racist for the China ban, he was accused of misogyny because his virus task force contained too may old white men.
Compare that to other national leaders who did nothing but listen to their medical advisers who were downplaying the risks of the virus.
Compare that to the regional and local politicians who were telling people they were racist if they did not frequent Chinatowns and Chinese racists.
Let’s not attempt to rewrite history for partisan gains. We should be investigating what went wrong in China and the WHO.
Our very lives depend on it.
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