We see the word virus a lot these days, along with various forms of adjective referring to the causes and nature of Covid-19, the name given to the Coronavirus disease by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and used internationally when referring to the health crisis that has fallen upon our globe. It is used by almost everyone with some glaring exceptions, including the U.S. Secretary of State, the outwardly genial but profoundly poisonous Mike Pompeo, and various Republican politicians who are determined to deflect attention from the massive efforts by China to contain, control and eventually eradicate the disease.
In the minds of the “Keep America Great” obsessives, led by President Trump who absurdly wore a cap with that inscription when visiting the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in Florida on 8 March, there is no greater priority than maintaining U.S. military and economic ascendancy around the world, and one of the ways of doing this is to disparage, malign and insult those who fail to fall to toe the Washington line. Pompeo is a front-runner in this, and rarely loses an opportunity to boost what he imagines to be U.S. ascendancy.
The World Health Organisation was very careful in naming Covid-19 and stated that “the name of the disease could not refer to a geographical location, an animal, an individual or group of people… This choice will help guard against the use of other names that might be inaccurate or stigmatizing.” But so far as Pompeo and his ilk are concerned, ‘stigmatising’ is the name of the international game. On 7 March he referred to the disease as the “Wuhan Virus”. He was asked by the host of the ‘Fox and Friends’ talk show why he called it that and replied that “as a first matter, the Chinese Communist Party has said that this is where the virus started”.
The world is apprehensive concerning the Covid-19 pandemic (for so it is now rightly described) and it might be thought that now, of all times, all countries could pull together in seeking a solution to this potentially disastrous plague. But no: while most of the world certainly seems to be cooperating to monitor, treat and cure this horrible disease, it is evident that the U.S. Secretary of State has other priorities. He is determined to put China at centre stage and blame it for the crisis.
In an interview with CNBC’s ‘Squawk Box’ programme, Pompeo declared that it has been “incredibly frustrating” to work with the Chinese government to obtain data on the virus, “which will ultimately be the solution to both getting the vaccine and attacking this risk. Remember, this is the Wuhan coronavirus that’s caused this, and the information that we got at the front end of this thing wasn’t perfect and has led us now to a place where much of the challenge we face today has put us behind the curve. That’s not the way infectious disease doctors tell me it should work. It’s not the way America works with transparency and openness and the sharing of the information that needs to take place.”
He was lying, because, as publicly announced on 24 February at a media conference of the WHO-China Joint Mission on Covid-19, “As agreed by the two sides, China and the WHO invited Chinese and foreign experts to form a joint mission to investigate the epidemic prevention and control in China. Starting from February 16, the joint mission has visited Beijing, Guangdong, Sichuan and Wuhan of Hubei province successively…”
Pompeo’s allegation that there has been no “sharing of the information that needs to take place” by China was a downright lie.
The International Mission was headed by Dr Bruce Aylward, lately Assistant Director-General of the World Health Organisation and currently senior adviser to the director general, who along China’s Dr Liang Wanniang headed the team of experts which examined the vast problems facing the country. As Dr Aylward recounted, “In the face of a previously unknown disease, China has taken one of the most ancient approaches for infectious disease control and rolled out probably the most ambitious, and I would say, agile and aggressive disease containment effort in history. China took old-fashioned measures, like the national approach to hand-washing, the mask-wearing, the social distancing, the universal temperature monitoring. But then very quickly, as it started to evolve, the response started to change . . . So they refined the strategy as they moved forward, and this is an important aspect as we look to how we might use this going forward.”
Contrary to what Pompeo claimed on Fox News — which, unfortunately, is regarded as a credible source by millions of Americans including President Trump — the Chinese are being completely cooperative internationally. For example, on 14 March President Xi sent a message to European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen offering total support.
Dr Aylward was not interviewed by Fox, as it would have been embarrassing to hear him state that “WHO has been here from the start of this crisis, an epidemic, working every single day with the government of China… WHO was here from the beginning and never left. What’s different about this mission is it’s complementing with a lot of other external experts.”
The “Wuhan Virus” theme was adopted by several Republican legislators, including, as reported by the New York Times, Senator Cotton of Arkansas and Congressman McCarthy of California who indulged his followers by tweeting that the disease is “the Chinese coronavirus.”
What are these people trying to prove? Do they imagine that blaming the “Chinese Communist Party” is in some fashion going to lessen the effects of Covid-19? Do they think their silly posturing has assisted one single member of the human race to avoid or recover from the disease? With such mindsets they are not fit to be in any position of legislative or administrative responsibility.
Which brings us to President Trump who leapt on the anti-China bandwagon and according to Time Magazine “retweeted supporter Charlie Kirk calling it the ‘China virus,’ with the president agreeing ‘we need the Wall more than ever!’” Then he used his Address to the nation to refer to the Covid-19 epidemic “that started in China” and claim that the U.S. was making “the most aggressive and comprehensive effort to confront a foreign virus in modern history.” Note that it was of course a foreign virus, as pointed out by the Guardian.
Trump went further in his flailing attempts to claim that the U.S. had taken speedy and energetic action against the virus, when in fact he had been the most dilatory leader in the world. He declared that the European Union “failed to take the same precautions and restrict travel from China and other hotspots. As a result, a large number of new clusters in the United States were seeded by travellers from Europe.” He then announced that there would be restrictions on travel from European countries, without having the common sense or the courtesy to consult with or at least notify the EU of this sweeping decision.
The leaders of the European Council and the European Commission issued a joint statement that the decision had been made “unilaterally and without consultation,” and there was chaos at airfields all over the European continent.
Trump and his minions have gone out of their way to grossly inconvenience, denigrate and insult the European Union and China and if they think that when international affairs return to a pre-epidemic state, then there will be forgiveness on the part of the EU and the PRC they are profoundly mistaken. The resentment created by Washington’s sneering attitude and mercurial pronouncements isn’t going to disappear. There will be blowback, and the U.S. will suffer, and the blame for this will lie squarely with the White House, its Congressional hacks, and the egregious Pompeo.