A pandemic, a medical expert and a leader who ignores both

Please note: The current Coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic is fast moving, and reactions to it seem to update not just day-by-day but minute-by-minute. Obviously, this site was not designed to bring you the very latest developments in a ‘breaking news’ story such as this. Instead, this site will continue to include news and opinions relating to major events, policy changes, and so on.

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This article, written by me, first appeared in The Locus on May 23. How different countries’ leaders are handling the COVID-19  pandemic remains the interest  of people worldwide – not least the vulnerable such as the elderly, the disabled, and those with one of a variety of health issues. Having MS which is an auto-immune disease, a mobility disability, a heart condition, and getting on a bit, I am considered to be one of the ‘vulnerable’ group.

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An unpredictable combination, President Trump listens as Dr Fauci speaks. Official White House Photo by Andrea Hanks.

Governments all over the world have been pushed to their limits to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic. Each has introduced its own plans, with most including stay-at-home orders, social distancing when allowed to go out and a host of other restrictions on how we live our lives.

In the US, it isn’t a federal matter; such decisions rest with each of the 50 states individually, though you’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise, in the midst of President Donald Trump’s barrage of public statements and comments.

Now, many countries and US states say they have passed the peak of the crisis, and can see levels of infections and deaths beginning to fall. That, combined with the public becoming impatient with being told to stay at home, has prompted those same governments to come up with plans to de-escalate the lockdown.

Of course, each authority has had to do more than that. Some, for example, have guaranteed partial pay for those left furloughed or without a job, while the U.S. has increased unemployment pay and made it easier to claim, as well as making a one-off stimulus payment of $1,200 (£986) to anyone earning less than $75,000 a year.

France guaranteed laid-off workers 75% of their usual pay, the UK is paying 80% and the socialist-led government of Spain went all the way: 100%.

On top of that, in various countries, several other schemes have been introduced. These are designed to help those on benefits, people with disabilities, the self-employed, and small businesses, among others.

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A patient in a quarantined hospital room. Mongkolchon Akesin/Shutterstock.com

In fact, people everywhere have been feeling the presence of government decisions and actions. In Spain, where I live, we’ve experienced one of the most severe lockdowns, strictly enforced by the police and the military. Breaking it can net you a fine of up to €30,000 (£26,700).

Although restrictions have begun to lift in Spain, my wife, Lisa, and I are unaffected so far, so we stay at home, as we have since the ‘state of alarm’ was introduced on March 13. That’s ten weeks and counting! Am I fed up and frustrated? Of course.

Do I think the government is doing its best to handle an extremely difficult crisis? Yes, I’m sure it has our best interests at heart. Is it acting upon scientific and medical advice? Absolutely. Do I feel that my human rights, as well as those in the Spanish constitution, have been curtailed without due cause? No. While our rights undoubtedly have been interrupted, it hasn’t been without reason.

But one of those points is worth further scrutiny.

Worldwide, governments relied on the best scientific advice available before and after introducing lockdowns. Today, they continue to rely on those same advisers to decide when – and how – restrictions can be relaxed.

However, though I say worldwide, that isn’t strictly true. In the U.S., President Trump is at odds with his most senior adviser. He’s also criticising those state governors who are sticking to their scientifically-advised lockdowns and refusing to bend under the president’s aggressive pressure.

Trump, it seems, is more interested in the pandemic’s effect on the economy than on the lives of his own citizens.

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Dr Fauci responds to a question during a coronavirus update briefing, as Trump watches on. 25th March, 2020. Official White House Photo by Tia Dufour.

We all need to remember that, at first, he said he wanted the US reopened by Easter. The New York Times reported: “The president said he believed a crippled economy and forced social isolation would inflict more harm than the spread of the virus.”

Of course, he then admitted that his Easter choice wasn’t based on scientific advice or data analysis, but on the notion that Easter is a “beautiful time”.

A beautiful time! Lord help the American people, because Trump certainly doesn’t have their best interests at heart.

Just a week later, though, the president had changed his mind and abandoned his idea. This time, besides the scientific data, the president was influenced by other figures.

“Political advisers described for him polling that showed that voters overwhelmingly preferred to keep containment measures in place over sending people back to work prematurely,” reported the New York Times.

Forget people’s health, forget the economy, now it’s all about getting reelected for a second term!

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Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force at an update briefing. 21st March, 2020. Official White House Photo by Andrea Hanks.

Last week, Trump doubled down on his non-data-led campaign to reopen the U.S., attacking his top scientific adviser, Dr Anthony Fauci, over the issue of reopening schools.

Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), Dr Fauci is one of the world’s leading experts on infectious diseases, and had warned of serious repercussions if state economies – including schools – returned too soon.

NBC News reported that, in a congressional hearing, “Fauci sounded a note of caution about reopening schools in the fall, telling senators that ‘we just have to see on a step-by-step basis, as we get into the period of time with the fall about reopening the schools, exactly where we will be in the dynamics of the outbreak.’”

In response to Dr Fauci’s testimony, the president said: “I was surprised by his answer, actually, because, you know, to me it’s not an acceptable answer, especially when it comes to schools.”

“Our country has to get back, and it has to get back as soon as possible, and I don’t consider our country coming back if the schools are closed.”

To me, it seems Trump feels he doesn’t need the advice he asked for, simply because he doesn’t agree with it. He seems to think that presidency and leadership makes him right. But he is not always right.

He should, like other national governments, act on the advice of his top scientific adviser – rather than retaliate against it.

In my last piece, I drew parallels between the COVID-19 pandemic and the UK’s 2001 outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease. Now, I’ll do the same, because it seems Trump has a bad case of foot-in-mouth disease.

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Spelling

Please note that being born in the UK, all my posts, are written using British English spelling.

For example:

Centre                              not center (except in names, Centers of Disease Control)                  Colour                              not color                                                                                                                      Diarrhoea                       not diarrhea                                                                                                  Haematology                not hematology                                                                                Haematopoietic          not hematopoietic

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50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. More recently, he was a freelance medical writer and editor for various health information sites. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.

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Note: Health-related information available on 50shadesofsun website is for your general knowledge only. It is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. Ian is not a doctor, so cannot and does not give you medical advice. You should seek prompt medical care for any specific health issues. Also, consult a doctor before starting a new diet or exercise programme. Any opinions expressed are purely his own unless otherwise stated.

One thought on “A pandemic, a medical expert and a leader who ignores both

  1. Trump embodies the lowest qualities of humanity! You have pointed out his complete separation from concern over human life. If he had been aggressive in his approach to this virus in the beginning and listened to his intelligence reports and medical science advice in January, this country would have been so much further along both in saving human life and saving the economy. I am heartsick that its country elected such an incompetent self-serving corrupt toddler.

    Like

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