Too little, too late as pandemic rages

Editorial | Mary Ma 13 Mar 2020

Donald Trump's closing the US border to visitors from the European continent will unlikely stop the coronavirus spread in his country.

It's too little, too late now that community outbreaks involving unclear infection pathways have been reported - though Trump seems to be trying to catch up to face a virus that he used to call no more serious than seasonal flu.

He could still be daydreaming if, that is, there was not another Wall Street plunge yesterday that could spell disaster to his re-election plan.

The West - except Italy - has been waking up rather late to the threat of the coronavirus after its first outbreaks in China.

Although Italy imposed strict travel restrictions early in the epidemic, it is the worst-hit country in the West and has the highest fatality rate at 6.6 percent. As of Wednesday, there were 12,462 cases with 827 deaths.

Although preoccupied with the November presidential election, Trump is now doing the right thing in facing the virus directly.

Interest rate cuts, tax relief and emergency funds may aid the economy, but they won't cure the disease. In this respect, Trump has been way behind the curve before coming to realize this very basic understanding.

Closing the border isn't the whole solution. Theoretically, Europeans could bypass the ban by first stopping in Britain for 14 days before carrying on to the United States.

Meanwhile, the most powerful woman in Europe is still daydreaming. German chancellor Angela Merkel seems to be retreating the defense line without staging even a fight at the border in the first place. Ruling out a ban on visitors from Italy, Merkel is resigned to the prospect that seven in every 10 Germans would be eventually infected with the virus which - while largely causing mild symptoms in the young - is particularly dangerous to the old and frail.

It's very difficult for Asians to understand Westerners' opposition to wearing masks.

Although masks are a common sight throughout Asia, they are still extremely rare in Europe and America, where the authorities insist that only the sick should put on a mask.

Would the pandemic run a different course in the West if Trump and Merkel followed the Asian example and encouraged their citizens to wear masks as a general precaution?

I would say it is probable, in light of Hong Kong and Taiwan's successful experience.

Reluctance to ask the public to wear masks is a disservice to efforts in fighting the virus.

Merkel's projection that 70 percent of Germans may get infected is consistent with that of Hong Kong microbiologist Yuen Kwok-yung, who predicted infections will not stop until 70 percent of the population develops immunity to break the cycle.

The declaration of the virus as a pandemic by the World Health Organization was also too little, too late.

Director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus should have stated so earlier to raise the alarm on the other side of the planet - even if use of the term might invoke panic.

Only when all government heads wake up to the danger will we see a turning point in the crisis.

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