I was delighted that my commentary titled “WHO trumps and blunts Trump” (9 April) provoked a hostile response from David Wei. I enjoyed reading it. However, his criticisms of me and his counterclaims cannot go by unchallenged and hence this response.
Wei provides no factual evidence to change my views. I stand by my article and criticisms of Trump’s mishandling of this crisis and his weak attack on the WHO. Many of the views I expressed in my commentary are shared by many rationale people around the world, which can be easily verified by searching through many credible open sources.
The first thing to say is that David Wei has referred to the virus as the “Wuhan virus.” Thus, his pretense of claiming he usually disagrees with Trump is disingenuous and unconvincing, for he faithfully replicates with absolute precision, the very language and ideas of Trump. Wei’s outrageous attack on WHO and playing the blame game against China is exactly the narrative of Trump.
The next point to make is that Wei needs to check his facts. I find his claims to be inaccurate in a way that is designed to mislead us by either misquoting sources, failing to provide the complete picture, being selective in his use of data, or a combination of these, to present misleading and inaccurate claims. One example is his claim that, “On Jan 14, WHO tweeted that “preliminary investigations” by Chinese authorities had found no evidence of human-to-human transmission of the coronavirus.” In this instance, Wei misquotes the tweet to deceive us. This tweet of 14 January, attributed to Maria Van Kerkhove actually reads,
14 Jan 2020: Dr @mvankerkhove notes in a press briefing there may have been limited human-to-human transmission of the #coronavirus (in the 41 confirmed cases), mainly through family members & that there was a risk of a possible wider outbreak.
I suggest Wei read it again. The key phrase is “there may have been limited human-to-human transmission of the #coronavirus” in 41 cases.” It does not say there was “no evidence of human-to-human transmission”.
But worse still, Wei continues to deceive and mislead us by failing to mention that a week later, after more data was collected, WHO revised their assessment by putting out another tweet as follows,
22 Jan 2020: WHO mission to #China issues a statement saying there is evidence of human-to-human transmission in Wuhan but more investigation is needed to understand the full extent of transmission. #COVID19.
Wei misquotes the WHO’s tweet in three key respects. Firstly, his claim that WHO found “no evidence of human-to-human transmission.” Secondly, he fails to mention that WHO subsequently revised their information based on new evidence. And thirdly, he fails to appreciate the fluidity of the situation and that WHO’S investigation was ongoing, as indeed it still it.
A survey of many news sources paints a clear picture which he also ignores. For instance, as The Guardian reports, the World Health Organization warned the US and other countries about the risk of human to human transmission as early as 20 January 2020.
But it gets even worse when Trump began incriminating himself. In January 2020, one of Donald Trump’s inner circle and most trusted adviser on trade, Peter Navarro, wrote a memo to the President warning him the coronavirus would create a pandemic. He warned the virus could kill up to half a million Americans and cost the US economy six trillion dollars. On 23 February, Navarro wrote a second memo to the President revising his estimates upwards stating: “the virus would kill two million Americans,” as illustrated in the following excerpt from Navarro’s memo dated 23 February 2020:
Extract of Memo to President Trump by his top trade adviser, Peter Navarro. Source: “Navarro memos warning of mass coronavirus death circulated in January,” by Jonathan Swan and Margaret Talev, 7 April 2020. https://www.axios.com/exclusive-navarro-deaths-coronavirus-memos-january-da3f08fb-dce1-4f69-89b5-ea048f8382a9.html
Yet, all through this period from January to February, Trump ignored the warnings of one is key advisers, and was telling Americans: “everything will be fine…. We think we have it under control.” A few days later, he went on to implicate himself further in this massive blunder by stating the number of infections will soon be “down to zero.”
These two memos in January and February 2020 issued dire warnings to the President, and many concerned Americans are rightly asking why these warnings were not acted on more quickly. Trump’s only response was to put a travel on China. He failed to act on Navarro’s advice to invest in procuring essential medical equipment.
The blunders continue. Two weeks later, on 6 March, Trump favourably compared the coronavirus to the regular flu, and said there would zero cases. It was not until 17 March that he finally publicly grasped the serious of the virus. Was Trump confused? Or was he intentionally deceiving the American people? Was he distracted by the stock market? The amount of evidence against him is overwhelming, but he denies it, and plays the blame game.
A news item on ABC World News Tonight (4 April) states: “New evidence now suggests the virus was circulating in the New York area by mid-February, weeks before the first confirmed case.” The report goes on to state: “Researchers suspect travelers brought it mainly from Europe, not Asia.” In other words, while Trump justifiably imposed a ban on travelers coming China, he totally blew it by failing to close the borders with Europe and so many Americans were not screened on their way back from Italy, which, at the time, was a growing hotspot.
All of the evidence above reveals Wei’s unwillingness to recognize Trump’s mistakes are fundamental to why so many Americans have now been infected. It has nothing to do with China. Wei’s claims do not stand up to rigorous scrutiny and can be easily refuted.
By blasting the World Health Organization, Trump is trying to divert our attention away from his own monumental blunders. In a recent tweet he wrote, “The WHO really blew it. For some reason, funded largely by the US… Fortunately I rejected their advice on keeping our borders open to China early on. … Why did they give us such a faulty recommendation?”
He lies again. If you dig deeper and do some fact checking, the US is not the biggest donor of the World Health Organization. It is the largest single donor but contributes just 15 percent of the budget. So, why is Trump criticizing the World Health Organization? It is because he is looking for a scapegoat and for someone to blame.
Yet, when Dr Anthony Facui, one of the top officials on the US coronavirus task force was recently asked about the Director General of the World Health Organization, Facui called him “an outstanding person when it comes to the coronavirus.” In other words, Facui is saying that when it comes to COVID-19, the Director General of the World Health Organization, Dr. Tedros, is all over this. That is the truth coming from one of Trump’s top officials. It couldn’t be any clearer.
Wei also claims: “Most Chinese scientists believe the Wuhan virus was detected as early as November 2019, but the Chinese authorities prevented any news of it from being released.” Firstly, I have found no credible scientific source that shows Chinese scientists referred to the virus as the “Wuhan virus.” Let’s get our facts right. Secondly, the argument that the virus first surfaced in November is based on the assumption that human infections must have occurred in November. This has not proved yet. According to one source, there was one case reported on 1 December but the source also noted that “No epidemiological link was found between the first patient and later cases” that emerged in late December.” The critic fails to take into account that it takes time for scientists and doctors to recognize a new virus. It is not about China deceiving the world. That is an unfounded claim without a shred of evidence to prove it.
In light of the above facts, the claim the Chinese authorities prevented any news of it from being released” falls apart and we can discard it entirely as right-wing propaganda. Trump had warnings from WHO and from one of his closest advisers but failed to act properly, and when he did respond, it came to late.
Wei’s claims can be refuted easily, but rather than deconstruct each of them one by one, let me conclude by correcting on his claim the Chinese government punish doctors and journalists for telling the truth. I find this oversimplified what actually occurred. Firstly, pluralizing doctors it is misleading. There was one case of a doctor being called in by local police in Wuhan. That doctor unfortunately died of COVID-19 and has since been vindicated. Of course, vindication in death is meaningless to the doctor. We hear reports of some people in China demanding the government take action against the local Wuhan police officials responsible, but Trump punishes his critics, either destroying them or banning them from his press conference in a vain attempt to control the narrative. If you dig deeper into the facts, you find this allegation should be levelled against local police in Wuhan, rather than the national government of China.
Wei also claims, “China punished journalists who told the truth needs,” but he fails to contextualize that statement in relation to the events as they unfolded. It started when the Wall Street Times ran a story with the racist headline: “China Is the Real Sick Man of Asia.” This is no longer news. It is not about journalists reporting the truth but writing and publishing political propaganda which displayed racism at its worse. Wei didn’t mention this. I wonder why? Let’s not forget, the Wall Streets Times began this propaganda war. If journalists resort to propaganda rather than news, then it is right they be expelled.
In 2016, a Scottish commentator rightly described Trump as “the Weaponized Plum.” Given the time he is devotes blaming others in his babbling press conference, he looks like a Weaponized Plum on the verge of self-imploding. With the recent memos, he is under the microscope and is looking for someone to blame and that is the ONLY reason to attack the World Health Organization.
Wei accuses China of seeking to control the narrative. But he doesn’t tell us that Trump is doing the same thing, as every think-tank and government attempt to do. And Wei is doing it too – controlling the narrative but is unable to raise this fact to consciousness. The fact is there is no singular truth. There are multiple narratives. No one narrative is superior to another. Unlike the propaganda writers in right-wing think tanks, our best and true scholars will always deconstruct each narrative, to understand all of them in the context in which each is being created to make sense of it, something Wei doesn’t even consider remotely in his criticisms, preferring to conform to populist nationalistic narratives and to assume that Trump’s narrative is superior to all others. That is dangerous and we need to point it out.
A FURTHER NOTE from FAIR DINKUM: I present an interview with Ngaire Woods, the founding Dean of the Blavatnik School of Government at University of Oxford, which I have recorded and transcribed. It makes for interesting reading. These are the views of experts, very different and more accurate than the views of many politicians, most notably, President Trump. I have attached below an audio of the interview which you may like to post as well for those who wish to listen to it.
ADDENDUM, 12 April 2020
With regard to my response to David Wei, the following interview which was broadcast on BBC Newshour on Saturday 11 April 2020 provides us with a good representation of expert opinion about government responses to this global pandemic; that China did respond early; and that many governments wasted time and did not take the pandemic seriously; and that political bashing of the World Heath Organization is unjustified. Here, James Coomarasamy of the BBC interviews Ngaire Woods, the founding Dean of the Blavatnik School of Government at University of Oxford. An audio extract of the interview is attached for verification purposes.
JAMES COOMARASAMY (JC) It may be too early to start emerging from lockdown restrictions, but governments are already focusing on how to jumpstart their economies after this crisis is over – a crisis which we know has already cost millions of jobs and is going to lead to a global recession. But should they be getting together to formulate a global response and what should that be? Someone who has been thinking about this is Ngaire Woods, Dean of the Blavatnik School of Government at University of Oxford, and she joins us now. Welcome to the program. Good afternoon Ngaire.
Ngaire Woods (NW) Good afternoon.
JC A global response to a pandemic that has revealed that countries initial response has been to act very much in the national interests.
(NW That’s right and that’s been true across history for several hundred years. There’s a first initial panic where a government wants to prove to its own population, quite understandably, that it is going to protect them. But a couple of hundred years of international health cooperation has evolved precisely because the only way, effectively, to beat back a contagious disease is to cooperate internationally. And that’s why the World Health Organization exists. It’s why periodically governments and commentators line up to bash it. But then you get a pandemic and then suddenly people realize it’s absolutely vital because if countries don’t cooperate, they’ll simply continue to be reinfected, no matter how hard they try.
JC Well, there has been some bashing of the WHO going on during the pandemic, notably from President Trump.
NW Yes. That’s really unfortunate that some politicians around the world are choosing to say: “There was a delay in China reporting the virus to the WHO. Actually, it [China’s response] was pretty quick. By 12 January, China had given the entire genetic sequence of this virus to the world. By 16 January, German scientists in Berlin had already come up with an effective test for it. The fact remains that the President of the United States and some other governments then wasted several weeks before responding seriously.
JC A global health strategy is perhaps easier to imagine … But in terms of a global economic strategy to get out of the worst effects of this, what are you proposing?
NW That’s going to be crucial because the effects of this are not at all like the effects of the financial crisis. Economies have been ground to a halt. People have been locked down, unable to keep their businesses on foot. It’s more, I will say, like coming out of World Wars. And there we have two very instructive sets of lessons.
The lessons from the First World War was that countries did not adequately cooperate to ensure growth in each other’s economies, and the results were catastrophic for the world.
After the Second World War, they had learned that lesson and they cooperated very effectively to permit two things: to permit national governments take some very radical measures to invest and restore and rebuild their economies; and to undertake quite a heavy level of international cooperation to make sure you had other countries to sell all that you were producing to.
JC Ngaire Woods, Dean of the Blavatnik School Of Government, thanks very much.
 “HO warned of transmission risk in January, despite Trump claims” The Guardian, 9 April 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/09/who-cited-human-transmission-risk-in-january-despite-trump-claims
 See Jon CohenJan, “Wuhan seafood market may not be source of novel virus spreading globally Science Magazine, 26 January 2020. https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/01/wuhan-seafood-market-may-not-be-source-novel-virus-spreading-globally