As reported in today’s Washington Post, we have now officially passed the threshold of 600,000 deaths from Covid-19.
This makes us the world leader in having mismanaged the response to this pandemic. That much is obvious. But what are some of the specific areas of potential action that were ignored by the previous administration that directly contributed to the severity here?
Aside from what we saw so much in the news like Trump calling the disease a Democratic hoax—only to find many months later that he had already been recorded acknowledging how severe and dangerous Covid was to Bob Woodward—there was no response at all at our borders. Specifically, there was no entry-point health screening at all here while other countries enacted this as a fundamental and first action. Some of the other countries, like Taiwan, did not even have to do lock downs.
In the last two weeks I have taken six flights to three countries in Asia. At each airport, before landing, I filled out a yellow card, checking off any symptoms of illness. My temperature was then screened before I was allowed to enter the country. The only country that asked me nothing — and checked nothing — on my arrival was the United States, as I was coming home through San Francisco airport. I found it particularly odd as I was arriving on Singapore Airlines, which has 16 routes into China, seven into Japan and two into South Korea.
Robust screening of international travelers to the U.S. only began in mid-March. Unfortunately timed with Americans rushing home from Europe, it created mobs of passengers waiting up to six hours shoulder to shoulder, contrary to all social distancing guidelines.
This need not have happened.
According to 2019 figures, John F. Kennedy International Airport, one of the airports where serious bottlenecks occurred, processes more than 171,000 passengers daily on average. By contrast, Changi Airport in Singapore receives more than 187,000 passengers daily. They have no such bottlenecks or mobs, despite each international passenger completing health cards and walking through a temperature scanner. The difference is professional, organized planning backed by national government at the highest levels.
Changi Airport implemented health screening on Jan. 22. In the approximately six weeks that the U.S. lagged behind — while some elected leaders and influential media pundits were still calling coronavirus a “hoax” — it’s a safe estimate that more than 25 million people arrived unscreened through U.S. airports from international flights.
Even more shocking was the conversation around me after I returned, which is unlike any other in the world right now — acrimony, conspiracy theories and finger pointing between political parties, Facebook awash in stories of a “hoax” disease and claims that coronavirus was caused by 5G lines or purposely created by the Chinese. Meanwhile people are getting sick. In some cases, very sick. And they are our neighbors.
This might not have been as striking to me if it were not for the fact that my trip was to Timor-Leste (formerly East Timor), a small island of 1.2 million people between Indonesia and Australia. It is one of the poorest nations in Asia. Yet it managed to have someone hold a thermometer up to my head before I entered the country.
I traveled to Timor-Leste as part of my work with José Ramos-Horta, the former president of the country and the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize laureate. I happened to be at his dining room table when messages started pouring in about coronavirus, signaling that the threat was expanding around us
The country was in political turmoil. Six days before I arrived, the prime minister had resigned, as the coalition that had put him in power had fallen apart. The president had refused to swear in the new ministers, so the ministers were all interim. As a result, no budget could be passed. Even so, they were able to come together, with leadership from Ramos-Horta and guidance from World Health Organization, to set up an inter-ministerial task force on COVID-19. Rising above division, the task force has worked closely with all political, civil society and church leaders, focusing on prevention, disseminating precise daily information, and mobilizing resources for public education.
This dark milestone of over 600,000 dead is the hellish legacy of what happens when the politics of belligerent nationalism take root in a government. Trump and his cronies decided that his retention of power was more important than actually doing the job he swore an oath to.
To this day he has not been held to account. That needs to change. And behind him are big money interests that have continued to finance his farcical claims and delusions of some miraculous return to power. Trump, his enablers, his financiers and his loyal henchmen have by their actions and accessory actions killed more Americans than WW I, WW II, Korea and Vietnam.
600,000 Americans are dead and countless relatives and friends bereaved. Anyone who has lost a close friend, relative, spouse, son, daughter, mother, father, knows the hollowing pain and devastation of this loss. Magnify that by 600,000 and you start to get how dark this milestone really is. It is the most craven of antisocial characteristics to be blind and numb to this kind of suffering. And thus we begin to see the depths to which the other guy was willing to descend on his own behalf.