The impact of COVID-19 is beginning to ease in a growing number of countries, and the lives of more and more people are gradually returning to normal. But in the United States, the world’s only superpower, there are still more than 20,000 new infections each day. Washington’s failure to respond effectively to the challenges posed by the outbreak has led some American politicians to try to absolve themselves of responsibility by spreading rumors about the origins of the novel coronavirus.
One such rumor is that the virus escaped from a laboratory in Wuhan, the city where it was first identified. But in an article published by National Geographic, the director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and one of the leading health experts on the White House Coronavirus Task Force, Anthony Fauci, publicly dismissed the suggestion that the virus was manmade or genetically modified based on the available evidence.
The World Health Organization’s technical lead on COVID-19, Doctor Maria Van Kerkhove, told the press that the 15,000 full genome sequences done of the virus showed “this virus is of natural origin.” John Ratcliffe, President Donald Trump’s nominee for director of national intelligence, told a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing that he had not seen evidence that the virus originated in a Wuhan lab or a food market in that city. And the former general counsel of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Andrew Weissmann, said these claims about the virus were as ridiculous as the suggestion from President Trump that injections of disinfectant could be a cure for the virus.
Another tactic some lawmakers are using to distract attention from Washington’s failures to bring the COVID-19 outbreak under control is to talk about a decoupling from China.
Early in the COVID-19 outbreak in China, some American officials claimed that the outbreak would speed up the return of manufacturing to the United States, creating more jobs at home. Instead, the U.S. economy has just experienced its biggest quarterly downturn since the 2008 financial crisis. According to data from the ADP Research Institute, more than 20 million Americans lost their jobs in April, more than double the total number of jobs lost during the 2008 crisis.
Despite this calamitous situation, senior voices including the White House economic advisers Peter Navarro and Larry Kudlow are still advocating for the withdrawal of U.S. capital from China and want to see a decoupling of the world’s two largest economies. According to reports by Reuters, the Trump administration is “turbo-charging” an initiative to remove China from global industrial supply chains.
But the reality on the ground is that U.S.-funded enterprises are expanding their presence in China. These companies range from the well-known retailers Starbucks and Walmart, to new energy vehicle market leader Tesla, and to the energy giant ExxonMobil. Protectionist voices can call on firms like these to come home, but talk is cheap, and these companies can see the obvious benefits of investing in China’s massive market.
No amount of talking can erase the reality that Washington is falling behind many other parts of the world when it comes to the hard work of bringing the COVID-19 pandemic under control. A huge number of American lives have been lost, and the number of new cases doesn’t look ready to fall sharply anytime soon. It’s time for Washington to face up to the major challenge it faces at home, instead of deflecting blames abroad.