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Why did the U.S. fail to contain the epidemic effectively?

(People's Daily Online)    15:13, May 30, 2020

As the U.S. reports the highest number of pneumonia cases, some Americans have started to question China's data on confirmed cases and death tolls. Failing to understand or unwilling to admit that China has done a good job amid the epidemic, they have tried to smear China instead.

The secret behind China's epidemic prevention and control could be seen from the statue of Edward Trudeau, pioneer of epidemic control in America, in the state of New York. The American doctor pointed out that gatherings will spread diseases and proposed the patients be kept in quarantine.

On the statue is a saying from the 19th century, often quoted by Edward Trudeau, "to cure sometimes, to relieve often, to comfort always."

Such words of wisdom have somehow echoed with China’s anti-pandemic measures, specifically, developing new medicine, relieving the symptoms and providing psychological support, as pointed out in the seventh edition pneumonia manual issued by the National Health Commission of China.

Chinese doctors have exerted all possible means to treat the disease, including traditional Chinese medicine, which played a special role in relieving symptoms and reducing the mortality rate.

Adjuvant therapies, full of Chinese characteristics such as Taiji and Qigong, have helped many Chinese people fight the virus when no medicine or vaccine is available.

Such treatment is only a part of China's anti-epidemic efforts. The country has explored various topics from clinical research to medical treatment, diagnosis, medicine and vaccine in order to combat the novel coronavirus.

More than 3,600 patients above 80 years old have been cured in Hubei province, the former epicenter of the outbreak in China, including at least seven centenarians.

While Dan Patrick, lieutenant governor of Texas, asked the elderly in the U.S. to sacrifice themselves for the economy, China has gathered experts and resources to treat each and every patient, which is why it shouldn’t be surprising that the country has contained the epidemic in a short time.

By contrast, informed of the coronavirus early on, America, the country with the most sophisticated technologies, is mired in the pandemic due to three big mistakes in its response to the pandemic.

The first mistake, the U.S. was poorly prepared for the disease. It required all confirmed patients in non-critical condition to stay at home for medical observation and failed to admit them to hospitals, while some young people flocked to the hospitals' emergency departments without wearing masks, leading to a worsening pandemic situation in a short period of time. In a way, this demonstrates that the U.S. has placed technology above health care in recent years.

Statistics show that the number of hospital beds (per 1,000 people) in the U.S. is only 2.77, ranking 32nd in the world and falling behind year by year; the number for China is about 4.34, continuing to rank higher on a yearly basis.

The U.S., which has invested heavily in cutting-edge technology, ranks low in terms of overall national health care among other member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

The elderly, who suffer from a high prevalence of basic diseases, and racial minorities,who face challenges in having access to health care, have become the most vulnerable groups amid the outbreak in the U.S., with a high infection rate and mortality rate.

The unfairness is a mirror of the current U.S government’s policy to abolish universal health care and reduce public health expenditure.

Secondly, it is clear that the U.S. government mishandled the pandemic. Back on Jan. 7, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the U.S. established a system for the outbreak. U.S. President Donald Trump also said that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) began developing a COVID-19 vaccine on Jan. 11.

However, it seems that the U.S. still hasn’t done a good job in the anti-epidemic work that only began in March. More and more evidence suggest that the U.S. government has held back the process, delaying action during the early stages.

During a hearing on the outbreak held by the U.S. House of Representatives on Feb. 5, three testifiers pointed out that imposing travel restrictions on China wouldn’t block the virus and called for prevention and control on the community level. These suggestions were not accepted.

Some American politicians convince themselves that the problem is the Chinese system, instead of the virus, causing them to ignore China’s experience and fail in containing the epidemic.

The outbreak in the U.S. hit hard the idea of American exceptionalism, the U.S. rhetoric of the country being unique or above the rest. At the very beginning of the virus, issues such as defective coronavirus testing kits in the U.S., strict testing control in civil institutions and limited screening scope of COVID-19 patients dampened U.S. efforts in the country’s response to the epidemic.

The crash of Boeing flights last year ruined the credibility of the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration as the agency behaved poorly in its regulation progress. The same scenario happened again with the U.S. CDC, which has done a poor job in disease control.

It reminds the world of a classic plot in an American television series The Newsroom. When asked why America is the greatest country in the world, Will McAvoy, the leading actor of the series, replied, “It's not.”

The situation continues to worsen due to the U.S. policy makers’ intentional ignoring of the repeated warnings from the U.S. Department of Health back in January. According to U.S. media, the White House delayed issuing a lockdown order for fear the U.S stock market would fall, resulting in the slipping away of the “golden opportunity” to defeat the disease.

What is worse, some U.S. top officials even made remarks with unrealistic optimism on more than one occasion, saying that COVID-19 patients would recover very soon, there is no need to see a doctor, and that the coronavirus will “miraculously” be gone by April. These claims that lack scientific evidence have greatly misled the public.

Third, the discord among U.S. top politicians also played an important role. Instead of tiding over the difficulties together, the Democratic and the Republican Party have turned the battle field against the pandemic into a political arena.

The U.S. administration, led by the Republican Party, allocated the epidemic prevention materials out of its preferential choice, while New York, the hardest-hit state in the U.S, is suffering from a lack of support, simply because the state is governed by the Democratic Party.

Trump even encouraged conservative voters in Michigan, a key swing state for his re-election this year, to protest against the COVID-19 measures rolled out by Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

As the rampant disease brings together the fate of mankind, the U.S. government could have learned from China’s experience in COVID-19 containment, the most important one of which is to put the life and health of people first, a priority over partisanship and geopolitics.

As the Japanese director Takeshi Kitano said about the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11, 2011, “This is not one incident in which 20,000 or 80,000 people died, it is 20,000 incidents, in each of which one person died.” 

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Web editor: Hongyu, Bianji)

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