Medical experts have told us that the Chinese coronavirus — COVID19, aka “kung flu” — is three times as contagious as the normal flu. The global pandemic has spread to a majority of countries. Italy has suffered the greatest number of deaths from the disease, surpassing even China’s death toll.
China — which concealed the coronavirus epidemic for weeks — now claims it is detecting no new cases. Whether that is because the spread of the virus has been effectively stopped by China’s totalitarian mandatory quarantines or because the Chinese have stopped testing people for the disease is entirely unclear.
President Trump is getting far more criticism and far less praise than he deserves for his administration’s handling of the pandemic. The media, as usual, criticize everything he’s done, from using the term “Chinese virus” to describe the disease — a term the press has labeled “racist” and “xenophobic” — to not yet invoking the Defense Production Act, by which he can compel industry to produce anything from surgical masks to ventilators. (Trump has invoked his powers under the DPA but hasn’t issued orders under it yet.)
The president can only do certain things himself — Congress is about to pass a stimulus bill that will send a bit of money around and will be entirely inadequate to equal the economic damage done by the pandemic — but what he’s doing on both the medical side of the equation and in strengthening border security is right on target.
On the medical side, Trump has ordered the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which is notorious for its slow approvals of new drugs, to “repurpose” two anti-malarial drugs — chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine — for the treatment of coronavirus infections. The FDA may still try to slow-roll the approval, insisting on further delays for testing.
Diagnosed cases in the U.S. reportedly surged to 20,000 as of Saturday, a tenfold increase over a week ago. The FDA has approved a faster test — one that reportedly can give results in an hour — for use in the United States. According to Vice President Mike Pence, nearly 200,000 Americans have been tested and test kits are being produced rapidly.
Nevertheless, panic has spread widely. People are flooding emergency rooms when they suffer any symptoms they believe indicate coronavirus infections. The president has urged hospitals and state governments to order more supplies and equipment but hasn’t intervened.
New York and California have suffered the worst outbreaks so far. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has ordered hospitals to “surge,” using rooms to house more than their usual capacity of the sick. Other governors should do the same. Trump has issued a national emergency declaration for New York and may soon follow it with similar action for California, freeing federal funds for medical care. It’s too early for a national declaration, but that may soon become necessary.
Several pharmaceutical companies are racing for a vaccine, encouraged by the president. It’s likely that any vaccine — developed here or in Israel — will not be available for mass inoculations until the fall.
Police, firemen, and our military will suffer from the pandemic. People are not going to be able to rely on them as much as they have for decades because cops, firemen, and soldiers are as vulnerable to the disease as anyone else. Firearm purchases have increased dramatically, perhaps because of the fear of reduced police protection.
Border security, which Trump can control, is another matter, and in this regard he’s doing precisely the right things.
At the end of January, before the global pandemic broke out, Trump ordered the cessation of flights from China and barred most foreign citizens who had visited China from entering the United States. Americans returning from China on U.S. evacuation flights were quarantined for two weeks at military bases in California.
Effective on March 13, Trump barred flights from most of Europe and, a few days later, added the UK and Ireland to the ban. The State Department warned Americans not to travel to Europe, saying that they may not be able to find ways to return if they do.
Most importantly, Trump has closed the U.S. borders to Mexico and Canada to all except trade traffic. The Border Patrol has reportedly changed its policy of “catch and release” — by which people coming illegally across the border from Mexico were arrested and then released to appear later in immigration court. The modified policy requires such illegals to be returned immediately across the border. This apparently doesn’t comply with U.S. law on asylum. Nevertheless, it is precisely the right thing to do.
It won’t be long before the Democrats and pressure groups such as the ACLU take Trump to court to end the “catch and return” policy. The courts may yet sustain it due to the national crisis we face.
As I have written many times, national security depends on economic prosperity. Our economy is highly stressed by the pandemic, with many businesses unable to function. Unemployment will surge with perhaps five million people losing their jobs in the next few months. Recession will follow, and perhaps worse.
It’s not just Democrats who don’t want a “good” crisis to go to waste. Adversary nations and terrorist networks will try to take advantage of our temporary weakness.
China and Iran are suffering greatly from the pandemic. China’s and Iran’s economies have essentially flatlined. But their economic weakness may only slow, not end, their usual aggressions, and it may encourage them to invent new ones. Russia apparently hasn’t suffered greatly from the pandemic as yet, but as with China and Iran, the news from Russia is government-controlled, so we really don’t know.
One of China’s tools, its “Belt and Road” Initiative (BRI), may be slowed in its aggressive progress because Chinese funds must be short. The BRI uses Chinese funds — which are growing scarce — to turn nations into tributary states through low-cost loans and Chinese-manned construction projects. Nations such as Pakistan have already become Chinese tributaries, and more — in Africa and elsewhere — will follow, albeit slowly.
China, Russia, and Iran all help fund the Taliban and other terrorist networks. That won’t noticeably slow because the Taliban are on the verge of driving us out of Afghanistan. Those nations also won’t slow their cyberwars against us. Tens of thousands of cyberattacks will emanate from those nations every day against U.S. defense and commercial networks.
The coronavirus pandemic has, by far, done more damage to our economy than the 9/11 attacks. Al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, ISIS, and others still dream of bringing our economy to a standstill. They will try to exacerbate the damage done by the coronavirus by striking us at home or abroad.
The terrorist networks see a historic opportunity in the coronavirus pandemic. A major attack, for example, against our electric grids could bring our tottering economy to its knees.
Our intelligence community has never been good at warning us of massive terror attacks. Even before it failed to warn us of the 9/11 attacks, the CIA has been ineffective in predicting and enabling the interdiction of significant events. It was as surprised when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 as it was when the wall was built almost overnight in August 1961.
The president should demand that the intelligence community go on full alert against such an attack and bring to bear whatever resources may be needed. We have been lucky, since the 9/11 attacks, that it has been able to detect and enable us to interdict many such attacks. At this time of crisis, we need more than luck to see us through.