Everything is under control, that is already going away - Donald Trump tries to calm the Americans down. In the fight against the corona virus, his government had "a lot of talent and brain power", said the US President during his trip to India this week. And now again in a special press conference: The country is "very, very prepared", the risk is "very low" and the outbreak will soon be over.
The experts who turned to the public this week see the situation somewhat differently. The CDC Agency for Disease Control and Prevention believes the virus will continue to spread to the United States and affect everyday life. "It's not so much a question of whether that will happen, but a question of when exactly it will happen and how many people in this country will be seriously ill," said director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Disease, Nancy Messonnier, and warned, "We ask the American public to prepare for the expectation that it will be bad."
Even in the joint press conference with Trump, the experts countered the President's cheerful optimism on Wednesday evening. CDC Vice Director Anne Schuchat and Minister of Health and Social Services Alex Azar once again confirmed: There will be more cases, so far 60 have been confirmed in the United States, with no fatal outcome. Work on a vaccine will take far more than a year and the further development is uncertain. CDC director Robert Redfield was asked in a congressional hearing whether he agreed with Trump and whether the corona virus would be gone by April. The clear answer: No, "it would be reasonable to assume that we will have to live with this pathogen for some time to come".
"We have the greatest experts in the world"
The US stock exchanges, which Trump so happily uses as an indicator of his policies, have recently responded with serious losses to legitimate concerns rather than the appeasement of the president. The fear that he will not take the threat seriously is not based solely on his attempts to downplay the danger. It is also related to the fact that in recent years the government has eroded many resources that are now needed. This affects personnel, financing and decision-making structures, which were cut particularly drastically in 2018. Trump assured in his press conference: "We have the greatest experts in the world." Even if that was true: can they work as effectively as they should?
In the National Security Council, the team that observed global health threats and potential epidemics and coordinated responses was completely dissolved in 2018. The corresponding epidemic team in the Ministry of Homeland Security was also completely dismissed and not replaced. The budget for global disease control has been reduced in many authorities, and staff and capacity are now lacking. There is no longer a government emergency fund to respond quickly to complex crises.
Health officials have already used up $ 105 million to fight coronavirus. Trump recently called for new funding of $ 2.5 billion, which must be approved in Congress. Even many Republicans consider this too little; the Democrats proposed an additional $ 8.5 billion budget in the Senate. The president was at least open to the offer to spend whatever was appropriate. The government's current draft budget, submitted two weeks ago, raises doubts: the CDC's annual funding is reduced by a sixth, and the Ministry of Health would get a tenth less.
"Scaremongering of Democratic Presidential Candidates"
The growing criticism of Trump's handling of the virus nevertheless seems to have moved something: Vice President Mike Pence should now coordinate all measures from above. He has "a certain talent" for it, Trump says. However, during his time as Indiana governor, Pence was more noticeable about public health cuts that critics blame for a sharp rise in HIV infection. In any case, it will basically have to start from scratch - or rather in the same place where Barack Obama stood in 2014. The then president had concluded from the Ebola outbreak in West Africa that the government's response to an impending pandemic must be better coordinated and more clearly organized. He tried with some success to optimize the structures in the White House, in the ministries and authorities - Trump reversed these advances in 2018.
His main concern at the moment seems to be that the corona crisis could weaken the economy to such an extent that his re-election in November would be at risk. Trump has repeatedly accused the media of exaggerating the threat. He now attributed the high stock market losses of the past few days to the political opponent: They were a reaction to the "panic of the democratic presidential candidates". It seems more like Trump, who is slowly panicking, despite his optimistic statements. If that ends up making the president take the virus seriously, it might not be a problem. But as so often, he put himself in this position.