- President Donald Trump has frequently insisted that “nobody” could have seen the coronavirus outbreak coming and that it “came out of nowhere.”
- The pandemic’s scope and severity are unlike anything the global community has grappled with in decades.
- But the president was warned – urgently and repeatedly – of this scenario, and his claim that it “came out of nowhere” and could not have been predicted is patently false.
- US officials conducted training exercises last year simulating the exact scenario that’s currently playing out, but their warnings went unheeded. Intelligence officials were also warning Trump about a pandemic as early as January, but they “couldn’t get him to do anything about it.”
- The Trump administration declined to use an Obama-era playbook instructing federal officials on how to prepare for a pandemic. And the president has spent the last two years slashing the government agencies responsible for handling such an outbreak.
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“What a problem,” President Donald Trump said on March 6. “Came out of nowhere.”
He was referring to the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus, which the World Health Organisation declared a pandemic five days later.
“I would view it as is something that just surprised the whole world,” the president said on March 19. “And if people would have known about it, it could have stopped – stopped being in place. Nobody knew there’d be a pandemic or an epidemic of this proportion. Nobody had ever seen anything like this before.”
On March 26, he added, “Nobody would have ever thought a thing like this could have happened.”
It’s true that this pandemic is unlike anything seen before in decades, a highly contagious virus with a mortality rate many times that of the flu.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the US’s leading expert on allergies and infectious diseases, has warned that the coronavirus, which causes a disease known as COVID-19, is uniquely insidious because it is a respiratory-borne illness that spreads easily from person to person and has a high degree of morbidity and mortality.
“Unfortunately, that’s the worst nightmare you could have, is to have something like that,” Fauci told “The Daily Show” host Trevor Noah.
But Trump was warned – urgently and repeatedly – of this scenario, and his claim that it “came out of nowhere” and “nobody knew” about it is patently false. It also is an effort to defend against a potential backlash that poses a risk to his re-election bid, as the economy stalls and the virus spreads. The US is now the epicentre of the global outbreak, with 164,610 confirmed cases and more than 3,000 deaths.
Trump ignored multiple warnings about the threat of a pandemic, and spent the last 2 years slashing the programs responsible for handling this outbreak
A series of media reports over the last several weeks revealed that Trump ignored multiple warnings about the prospect of a devastating pandemic that would overwhelm the country’s healthcare system and later publicly downplayed the virus after it reached the US.
Days before Trump’s inauguration, Obama administration officials briefed Trump officials on how to respond to a pandemic, Politico reported.
- According to the report, the scenario Obama officials presented to the incoming administration had many similarities to the coronavirus outbreak. In the hypothetical, the outbreak began in Asia, spread to the US, and exposed significant holes in the healthcare system like a shortage of ventilators and antiviral drugs.
Last year, the Department of Health and Human Services conducted a training simulation about a hypothetical pandemic that predicted, with remarkable accuracy, many of the problems the novel coronavirus currently poses.
- The New York Times reported that from January to August 2019, the training exercises simulated a scenario where a respiratory virus, dubbed “The Crimson Contagion,” began in China and rapidly spread through the US.
- The Times obtained a draft report from the exercises that raised red flags about several shortcomings currently arising in the federal government’s response and messaging to contain the virus.
US intelligence officials were warning Trump about a pandemic as early as January, The Washington Post reported, as more information emerged on the respiratory virus spreading in China. The president was receiving the briefings at the same time that he publicly downplayed the risk of the virus.
- By the end of January and beginning of February, a majority of the intelligence contained in Trump’s daily briefings was about the coronavirus, the report said.
- “The system was blinking red,” one US official with access to the intelligence told The Post. “Donald Trump may not have been expecting this, but a lot of other people in the government were – they just couldn’t get him to do anything about it.”
- On Jan. 31, the Trump administration restricted most Chinese travellers from flying to the US. The president and his allies also repeatedly referred to the disease as the “Chinese virus,” which public health experts warned was racist and did little to help the situation.
Politico reported that the administration declined to use a nearly 70-page pandemic playbook that the National Security Council’s health unit put together under the Obama administration.
- The document instructed federal officials on how to prepare for many of the same obstacles the Trump administration is now facing, including medical equipment shortages and a lack of coordination.
- Current officials told Politico they decided not to use the playbook because it was outdated and many of the procedures had been revised since it was first created.
Trump spent the last two years slashing many of the government agencies responsible for handling such an outbreak. According to Foreign Policy:
- In 2018, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention cut 80% of its efforts to prevent global disease outbreaks because it was running out of money. Ultimately, the global health unit of the department went from working in 49 countries to just 10.
- Trump shut down the entire global-health-security division of the National Security Council. He also reassigned Rear Adm. Timothy Ziemer, who would have overseen the US’s response to a pandemic in his previous role.
- He eliminated the US government’s $US30 million Complex Crises Fund.
- He reduced national health spending by $US15 billion.
- He consistently attacked officials in charge of spearheading the US’s global health programs, like Mark Green, the director of the US Agency for International Development.
- Trump’s former national security adviser, John Bolton, also pushed out Tom Bossert, the White House homeland security adviser who had called for a robust strategy against pandemics and bioweapons attacks.
Grace Panetta and Ashley Collman contributed reporting.
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