Thursday, February 27, 2020

If COVID-19 hits the US hard Trump could take some blame

...The Trump administration has cut funding for the US Center for Disease Control by 9pc. This month he proposed slashing it a further 16pc. The worst hit area has been pandemic preparation. The CDC’s global health security initiative has been chopped by 80pc, reducing country coverage from 49 to 10.

Mr Trump got rid of the US Complex Crises Fund. He shut down the pandemic and global health machinery at the White House, and fired the lot. He tried to cut the budget of the National Institutes of Health - the world’s finest concentration of science - by 20pc in 2018, and by 27pc in 2019. Congress stopped the worst but damage has been done.

Tom Frieden, ex-head of the CDC, warned two years ago that the cuts would leave the US at the mercy of the next killer virus. “The surveillance systems will die, so we won’t know if something happens. You can’t pull up the drawbridge and expect viruses not to travel,” he said. Ouch.

It has been a war on science.  Mr Trump’s cuts have nothing to do with fiscal austerity. They happened just as he was pushing through tax cuts and driving the US cyclically-adjusted budget deficit to 6.3pc of GDP (IMF data), spraying money with Peronist abandon. The science cuts were ideological. Some readers chide me for being an unreconciled Never Trumper. This is why. 

And now the White House has a disaster on its hands. “The epidemiological conditions for a pandemic are met,” said Prof Marc Lipsitch, Harvard’s guru on infectious diseases. Don’t be fooled by the seemingly low numbers of infections in the US (57 as I write): the country has tested just 426 people. Only three of the 100 public health labs even have working test kits.

One reason why South Korea appears to have so many cases is because it has carried out 44,981 tests. “They are looking, so they are finding,” says professor Caitlin Rivers from John Hopkins University.  

Read the rest here. (paywall)

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