Continued from: Was COVID-19 born in the United States? (part 3)
Very early in the morning of 7 February 2020 President Trump tweeted praise for China’s “great discipline” in fighting COVID-19 and predicted that President Xi Jinping would be “successful, especially as the weather starts to warm and the virus hopefully becomes weaker, and then gone.” It was precisely five-thirty in the morning in Washington.
Later that very day, in an interview with The Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, President Trump acknowledged that the virus was serious, but said: “I think that that goes away in two months with the heat.”
President Trump told Woodward: “This is deadly stuff.”
“You just breathe the air,” the President explained, “and that’s how it’s passed.”
A president who recognised his duty to protect the American people would have moved aggressively to address the threat, as leaders of other countries did. Instead, President Trump denied the danger, with his words and deeds, until the rates of infection and death surged to levels that Dr. Anthony Fauci acknowledged in early August had the United States experiencing the worst coronavirus outbreak in the world.
Two weeks after he spoke to Woodward about “deadly stuff,” Trump tweeted to the world, on 24 February: “The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA.”
The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA. We are in contact with everyone and all relevant countries. CDC & World Health have been working hard and very smart. Stock Market starting to look very good to me!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 24, 2020
Trump “wanted to always play it down.” That very day he would tell that much to Woodward who was interviewing for his new book: B. Woodward, Rage, Simon & Schuster, New York, 16 September 2020).
The book is based in part on 18 interviews that Woodward conducted with President Trump between December 2019 and July 2020.
“Trump never did seem willing to fully mobilize the federal government and continually seemed to push problems off on the states.” Woodward writes of the pandemic: “There was no real management theory of the case or how to organize a massive enterprise to deal with one of the most complex emergencies the United States had ever faced.”
On 27 February, President Trump said: “It’s going to disappear. One day, it’s like a miracle, it will disappear.” On 10 March he would say: “And we’re prepared, and we’re doing a great job with it. And it will go away. Just stay calm. It will go away.”
But it did not go away. It grew into a pandemic, a public health crisis of epic proportions which would quickly leave tens of thousands of Americans dead, millions infected, and tens of millions unemployed as the economy shut down. Had President Trump taken a different tack, if he had taken urgent action to enforce social distancing and other precautions in early March – instead of promising “It will go away”- Columbia University analysts have determined that roughly 54,000 COVID-19 deaths would have been prevented.
Why did the president not protect the American people?
“I wanted to always play it down,” he told Woodward on 19 March. “I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.”
That statement – which should have been reported immediately – was not an acknowledgement of wrongdoing. It was a description of a deliberate strategy. President Trump was lying to the people he had a duty to protect. And he would keep on lying.
The release by Bob Woodward of tapes showing that President Trump deliberately lied to the public over the COVID-19 pandemic has cast light on a possible conspiracy at the highest levels of the American state to cover up the threat posed by the disease.
In the tapes published by Woodward, President Trump admits to lying to the public as part of a criminal policy which, to date, has taken the lives of over 250,000 people. But it is clear that he did not act alone.
The President toldFoxNews viewers on 24 March: “I brought some numbers here. We lose thousands and thousands of people a year to the flu. We don’t turn the country off, I mean every year. Now when I heard the number – you know, we average 37,000 people a year. Can you believe that? And actually this year we’re having a bad flu season. But we lose thousands of people a year to the flu. We never turn the country off. We lose much more than that to automobile accidents. We didn’t call up the automobile companies, say, “Stop making cars. We don’t want any cars anymore.” We have to get back to work.
People took the President seriously. They believed him as he downplayed the pandemic, week after week, month after month, and engaged in what he admitted was cheerleading.
Richard Nixon’s abortive effort to break into the Watergate hotel to ransack Democratic Party files pales in comparison with the silence crime, which involves preventable death on a massive scale. But the bigger the crime, the bigger must be the group of conspirators. Unlike the Watergate conspiracy, which involved just a handful of people, the cover-up surrounding the pandemic involves not just the President, but his cabinet, the federal bureaucracy, the intelligence agencies, large part of Congress and the media. (C. Bernstein and B. Woodward, All the president’s men, Simon & Schuster, New York 1974).
The watchword of the Watergate investigation which led to the resignation of Nixon in 1974 was: “What did the president know, and when did he know it?” Now the same question must be asked of every institution of the American political establishment: “What did they know, and when did they know it?”
Throughout the month of January 2020, the number of new COVID-19 cases in the Chinese province of Hubei grew steadily, reaching a peak at the end of the month. The city of Wuhan, with its hospital system totally overrun, was put under lockdown, with residents allowed out only to buy groceries.
As demonstrated by President Trump’s description of his phone call with President Xi Jinping, Chinese authorities were as transparent with American officials as they were with the public health community, precisely explaining the disease’s method of transmission, its fatality rate and the measures necessary to contain it.
According to subsequent studies, community transmission was likely already occurring in the United States by early January. But despite the availability of a COVID-19 test from the World Health Organization, no tests were conducted in the United States during the entire month of January, according to figures from the Covid Tracking Project.
This points to a case of extraordinary negligence on the part of the Trump Administration. It could not be accepted that the pandemic was a new event in Washington.
Among the many sources of information on possible pandemic cases, there is a study, prepared during the presidency of George W. Bush: National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza; Implementation Plan (Homeland Security Council, May 2006).
There is a recent, up-dated edition of that publication, dated 31 October 2014. It contains nine chapters and three appendices for a total of 240 pages. Ah, yes, President Trump is an ignoramus who lacks curiosity and does not read. So, why would he know something like that?
On 24 January 2020 the Senate Health Committee and Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a closed-door briefing, open to all senators, on the COVID-19 outbreak. No records were kept – or so it seems – of the content of or attendance at the meeting. However, media reports indicate that Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Mauze Burr, a Republican from North Carolina, and Senator Kelly Lynn Loeffler, a Republican from Georgia, attended.
Emerging from the hearing, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told reporters: “I don’t think this is something that the United States public should be worried or frightened about.” He added: “I think the risk is very low right now for the United States.”
Whatever was said in private at the hearing, Sen. Loeffler did not get the same message as Dr. Fauci communicated publicly. Beginning immediately after the hearing, Sen. Loeffler started selling stock in the first of 29 stock transactions lasting several weeks. While she dumped stocks which lost value, she purchased shares in the online meeting firm Citrix, the business of which would boom during the pandemic.
On 28 January, according to Woodward’s account, Trump was told by his national security adviser, Robert C. O’Brien: “This will be the biggest national security threat you face in your presidency… This is going to be the roughest thing you face.”
Woodward’s reporting is consistent with an account published in TheWashington Post on 20 March, which reported that lawmakers were repeatedly and extensively briefed about the danger posed by the pandemic.
United States intelligence agencies were issuing ominous, classified warnings in January and February about the global danger posed by the coronavirus while President Trump and lawmakers played down the threat and failed to take action which might have slowed the spread of the pathogen, according to U.S. officials familiar with spy agency reporting.
Taken together, the reports and warnings painted an early picture of a virus which showed the characteristics of a globe-encircling pandemic and could require governments to take swift actions to contain it. But, despite that constant flow of reporting, President Trump continued publicly and privately to play down the threat the virus posed to Americans. Lawmakers, too, did not grapple with the virus in earnest until March 2020.
Intelligence agencies “have been warning on this since January,” said a U.S. official who had access to intelligence reporting which have usually been shared with members of Congress and their staffs as well as with officials in the Trump Administration. They, along with others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe sensitive information.
No systematic testing for COVID-19 took place until the very end of February, despite the fact that the first American fatality had already occurred. During the month, Reuters reported that the Senate Intelligence Committee was receiving “daily” updates “monitoring the spread of the illness around the world.”
Between 31 January and 18 February, Dianne Goldman Berman Feinstein, a Democrat from California, and the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, sold between $1.5 million and $6 million worth of stock. On 13 February, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Mauze Burr, a Republican from North Carolina, sold between $628,000 and $1.72 million in stock, unloading shares in hotel chains which would see their stock plunge as a result of the pandemic.
On 27 February, Sen. Burr secretly told a group of affluent Washington insiders at a private club known as the Tar Heel Circle, who paid as much as $10,000 per year for membership, that the pandemic would be much more severe than the public was being told. “There’s one thing that I can tell you about this: it is much more aggressive in its transmission than anything that we have seen in recent history,” he said, according to a secret recording of the remarks obtained by National Public Radio. “It is probably more akin to the 1918 pandemic.”
These statements flatly contradicted the tone of a public op-ed he wrote just three days earlier, in which he declared that the United States was “better prepared than ever before” to respond to a pandemic. Burr would subsequently resign as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee in response to the revelation.
In late February 2020 came the collapse of the stock markets, and consequently the surge in the value of the stocks of Big Pharma. There followed in early March devastating consequences for the tourist industry worldwide.
As the senators were dumping their stock, there was still no testing occurring, even with widespread community transmission in the United States. The first batch of COVID-19 tests occurred on 29 February.
Throughout the months of January and February, leading figures within the Democratic Party observed an airtight silence on the pandemic. This was in line with the posture of TheNew York Times, which did not write a single editorial on the subject between 29 January and 29 February.
The embargo appears to have been lifted approximately on 25 or 27 February. The Twitter accounts of Nancy Pelosi and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, which had not posted a single statement about the outbreak for the first seven weeks of the year, all tweeted about the virus during that time-span. Joe Biden also tweeted, declaring: “If I were president today, I would not be taking China’s word when it comes to the coronavirus.”
Events precipitated between February and March. On 24 February Moderna Inc. announced that it experimental mRNA COVID-19 vaccine, known as mRNA-1273, was ready for human testing.
Late in February 2020 there was a second wave of transmission of the virus to a large number of countries.
Between late February and early March more than 50 per cent of the Chinese infected patients recovered and were discharged from the hospitals. On 3 March a total of 49,856 patients had recovered from COVID-19 and were discharged from hospitals in China. What this means is that the total number of “confirmed infected cases” in China was 30,448 – that is 80,304 minus 49,856 = 30,448. 80,304 is the total number on confirmed cases in China according to W.H.O. data as at 3 March 2020. These developments concerning ‘recovery’ were not reported by western media.
On 5 March the W.H.O. Director-General confirmed that outside China there were 2,055 cases reported in 33 countries. Around 80 per cent of those cases continued to come from just three countries: South Korea, Iran and Italy.
These figures still suggested that the world was still not facing a global health emergency, and that the probability of infection was low. Further, on the basis of China’s experience, the treatment for the virus infection was effective.
On 7 March the number of ‘confirmed cases’ (infected and recovered) in the United States was of the order of 430, rising to about 600 on March.
Comparison with the figures pertaining to the Influenza B virus, provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, estimates for 2019-2020 “at least 15 million virus flu illnesses… 140,000 hospitalisations and 8,200 deaths.” (J. Guzman, Coronavirus is spreading but the flu is a greater threat to Americans, The Hill, 27.01.2020).
By early March, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank would come to the rescue.
The W.H.O. Director-General advised member countries that “the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have both made funds available to stabilize health systems and mitigate the economic consequences of the epidemic.” That was the proposed ‘neoliberal solution’ to COVID-19. The World Bank would commit US$12 billion in so-called ‘aid’ which would contribute to building up the external debt of developing countries.
By 7 March China’s pandemic was almost over. Reported new cases in China fell to double digit. 99 cases were recorded on that day. All of the new cases outside Hubei province were categorised as ‘imported infections’ – imported from foreign countries. The reliability of the data remains to be established: with 99 newly confirmed cases including 74 in Hubei Province, the new cases included 24 imported infections – 17 in Gansu Province, three in Beijing, three in Shanghai and one in Guangdong Province.
On 10-11 March Italy declared a lockdown, followed by several other countries of the European Union. Deployment of 30,000 United States troops in the European Union as part of the ‘Defend Europe 2020’ war games directed against Russia followed.
On 11 March the W.H.O. Director-General officially declared the COVID-19 Pandemic. The global health emergency had been declared on 30 January without stating officially the existence of a pandemic outside Mainland China.
On 11 March President Trump ordered the suspension for 30 days of all transatlantic flights from countries of the European Union, with the exception of Britain. This coincided with the collapse of airline stocks and a new wave of financial instability. Devastating impacts on the tourist industry in western Europe followed.
On 16 March Moderna mRNA-1273 was tested in several stages with 45 volunteers in Seattle, Washington State. The vaccine programme had started in early February: “We don’t know whether this vaccine will induce an immune response, or whether it will be safe. That’s why we’re doing a trial.” Moderna’s spokesperson stressed: “It’s not at the stage where it would be possible or prudent to give it to the general population.” (AP, 16 March 2020).
On 21 March Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, while addressing the American people from the White House, stated that COVID-19 was a live military exercise.
“This is not about retribution… This matter is going forward – we are in a live exercise here to get this right.”
With a disgusted look on his face, President Trump replied: “You should have let us know.”
On 8 April, mounting fear campaign began, led by western media. There was a very rapid increase in so-called ‘confirmed cases’, with 1,282,931 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 72,776 deaths, reported to the W.H.O.
By March-April the planet was practically in lockdown, with devastating economic and social consequences. The economic and social impacts far exceeded those attributed to the coronavirus. Cited are selected examples of a global process: there were massive job losses and layoffs in the United States, with more than 10 million workers filing claims for unemployment benefits; in India, a 21 days lockdown triggered a wave of famine and despair affecting millions of homeless migrant workers all over the country; the impoverishment in Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa was beyond description. For large sectors of the urban population, household income had literally been wiped out; in Italy, the destabilisation of the tourist industry resulted in bankruptcies and rising unemployment; in many countries, citizens became the object of police violence.
In March the floodgates opened, as testing began to come online, and the number of documented United States cases surged from less than a hundred to more than 200,000. But it was not until approximately 14 March that widespread lockdowns began in the United States. Columbia University estimates that if lockdowns had begun just two weeks earlier, on 1 March, 83 per cent of the country’s COVID-19 deaths could have been avoided.
On 19 March President Trump told journalist Bob Woodward that he was deliberately misleading the American public about the danger. Trump said: “I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.”
By mid-March, a series of wildcat strikes forced the shutdown of the entire United States auto industry, with Fiat Chrysler announcing the end of production on 18 March. President Trump’s interview with Woodward occurred the next day, as the markets were near their lows for the year after the Dow Jones Industrial Average had dropped close to 10,000 points.
The first procedural vote on what would become the CARES Act took place on 22 March 2020. (See forward) After that vote failed, the Dow futures hit their downward limit. Another procedural vote failed on 23 March, after which the markets reached their low for the year.
On 25 March, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced an agreement on the CARES Act. The Senate unanimously passed the bill that evening, and the House followed with an unrecorded voice vote. The bill was signed by President Trump within just five days of the first procedural vote.
On the same day as the first procedural vote for the CARES Act, and within just a week of the beginning of widespread lockdowns, TheNew York Times columnist Thomas Friedman published “A Plan to Get America Back to Work,” arguing for letting the virus run rampant through the population and a policy of “herd immunity.”
President Trump immediately began agitating for an end to the lockdowns, just one week after they had begun in earnest, using Friedman’s phrase; “The cure can’t be worse than the disease.” Immediately, states began the campaign to end lockdowns, aided by media accounts that pointed to relatively small right-wing “reopen the country” rallies and declared that Americans were sick of restrictions and demanding a return to work, despite polls to the contrary.
By mid-May, manufacturing activity had resumed in every state, and over the subsequent months, effectively all restrictions were dropped, culminating with the reopening of indoor dining in New York and gyms in Michigan, alongside the nationwide reopening of schools and universities.
Public health officials blamed the major resurgence of the pandemic on the premature ending of lockdowns, which, according to Dr. Fauci and others, were far shallower and shorter than they were in Europe.
By the middle of September 2020 more than 200,000 people had died in the United Sates from COVID-19. These deaths were the result of a conspiracy to place profits over human lives.
It is clear that everyone was in on this conspiracy except the broad mass of the population. The intelligence agencies warned the politicians, both in the White House and in Congress. The politicians warned their well-heeled supporters.
Among those deceived were President Trump’s deluded followers among sections of the middle class and working class, whom he secretly despises and whose lives mean nothing to him. The people now lying in mass graves on Hart Island, the human beings whose bodies were defiled by being piled in refrigerated trucks in the Bronx, or in the spare rooms of Sinai Grace hospital in Detroit – they were left out.
In an editorial published on 10 September 2020, TheNew York Times, responding to the Woodward tapes, commented, “Imagine what this picture could look like today had the president been honest with the American public on Feb. 7.”
Obviously, President Trump was not “honest” with the American people. But neither was The New YorkTimes editorial board. Everything of which they accuse Trump, they themselves would be guilty. (A. Damon, The coronavirus conspiracy: What did they know, and when did they know it?, 11 September 2020).
It is painful to reflect today on the tens of thousands of lives which might have been saved if a less reality-challenged President occupied the White House. Trump has been consistently, and particularly unreliable across the long month of a national crisis. Early in October, as he was recovering from his own bout of COVID-19, he unleashed a fresh torrent of tweets and videos. These conveyed much plain nonsense (“Maybe I’m immune”) and also some usual, dangerous lies, characteristic of him: that for most people COVID-19 is “far less lethal !” than the seasonal flu, while in the view of the specialists the coronavirus is about six times more deadly than the typical flu virus.
Even after four years of Trump shocks, the operatic dénouement of his re-election campaign has been staggering. Both already begun, the President and the First Lady were to be under care for COVID-19, and some three dozen White House employees, advisers, and recent guests were to test positive. It remains unclear just how the outbreak began and spread, but such an occurrence was perhaps inevitable, given the Administration’s refusal to require masks and physical distancing in the White House and at public events. Eventually, journalists and biographers would sort out exactly what the President knew about his own possible contagiousness before 2 October, the day he announced that he had tested positive – and how he handled any risk that he might infect others. On 4 October, while hospitalised at the Walter Reid, and he was almost certainly contagious, he staged a photo op in which he was driven around in an S.U.V. and waved to onlookers. At least two Secret Service agents were required to join him in the sealed, armoured vehicle, putting them at risk of exposure. It was an inane campaign stunt, and a study in selfishness.
The next day, in a made-for-TV return to the White House, Trump stood on the Truman Balcony and peeled a cloth mask from his face. What was the point? His disdain for public-health guidelines often defied political logic. A few days later he would exhort Americans not to let COVID-19 dominate their life, but rather learn how “to live with it.” A quarter of a million of them could no longer hear him! (S. Coll, Donald Trump’s Consistent Unreliability on COVID, and Everything Else, The New Yorker, 19 October, 2020).
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