In a stunning development that could have far reaching consequences for the upcoming November 3 election, the President of the United States, Donald Trump and the First Lady, Melania Trump have both tested positive for coronavirus, news that has literally numbed everyone.
“Tonight,@FLOTUS and I tested positive for COVID-19. We will begin our quarantine and recovery process immediately. We will get through this TOGETHER”, the President said in a tweet.
For more than six months, Trump has been playing down the threat that his intelligence agencies late last year had warned him about and at times even going to the extent of saying that the virus was nothing but an imagination of the Democrats and timed to the Impeachment process to bring the Presidency down.
The virus has claimed the lives of more than a million people globally. In the United States some 2,07,000 people have died with seven million infected in all of the 50 states. Trump had come under varying degrees of criticism for not taking the disease seriously even if privately he had mentioned it as “deadly” virus in early February to veteran reporter Bob Woodward of The Washington Post.
Publicly, aside from playing down the serious nature of the virus, ostensibly not to scare the wits out of people, Trump was always contemptuous of the advisories put out by infectious disease specialists and also pressuring the Centers for Disease Control to water down their warnings and messages on the Covid-19.
The President had also mocked those calling for wearing masks and was openly encouraging the people in his rally not to follow established guidelines on masks and social distancing. His acceptance of the party nomination on the lawns of the White House is a case in point where almost everything was thrown to the winds. In the first debate in Cleveland on September 29 where the subject of coronavirus was the only issue talked about at some length, Trump once again made fun of his Democratic opponent for wearing mask even if he were standing 200 feet away from a person; according to the President he wears a mask only when he needs to!
And at a time when critics are lashing out at the administration for not placing proper measures to contain the virus, Trump has argued that more people would have died if had not acted properly and that the data provided by India, China and Russia were not accurate.
What bothered doctors and frontline workers fighting COVID-19 was not just the callous fashion in which Trump and a handful of his aides were addressing the seriousness of the issue; it was also about the deliberate misinformation and disinformation that were being put out which were later on passed off as being in jest, half-hearted or even sarcastic comments—remember Clorox, bleach and other disinfectants’ remedies? And on top of all this as a way of under playing the seriousness and consequences and in a desperate attempt to get the economy back to normality, the Trump administration was forcing state governors to throw everything open including schools. And some states that had complied are now paying the price.
Undoubtedly, the Trump campaign must be jolted at the news of the President and the First Lady being infected with the COVID; and even if the President had scoffed at something called COVID-19, everyone will be wishing him and the First Lady in America and overseas only a speedy recovery. But this news comes at a highly charged moment in the Presidential elections process; and the uplift of the economy that was waiting for a new stimulus plan has also been pushed into an uncertain phase.
In parts of the Asia Pacific, US Stock Futures are said to have plunged on Friday, hearing the news about the President and First Lady. And for a campaign that was gearing up to the second town hall type debate with a President proudly claiming that he had won the first round, an element of uncertainty has come about for October 15 at Miami, Florida. Prior to this the Vice Presidential candidates will square off next week in Utah where tough questions are bound to be asked of Vice President Mike Pence and his role as a member of the Task Force on the virus.
Unfortunate as it may be, there is a lesson in all this for Trump: of a difference between being skeptical and in denial. Denying something that is in front of you has not only cost Americans personally but turned the economy and lives upside down with many families unsure if they can ever get their feet on the ground again. Or as the former Vice President said in the first debate “How many of you got up this morning and had an empty chair at the kitchen table because someone died of COVID?”.
Millions of children are sitting at home and supposedly taking online classes because schools are scared of re-opening for fear of the little ones getting infected. Some 14 million people have lost their jobs, many of them not hopeful of getting back their positions because of changed economic landscape. And that is the price that has to be paid for not being attentive at the switch.
(The writer was a former senior journalist in Washington D.C. covering North America and the United Nations.)
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