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Editorial Roundup: US

March 25, 2020 - 2:03 PM

Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:


March 24

The Chicago Tribune on adopting a pet while social distancing amid the new coronavirus:

During the current period of enforced isolation and social distancing, you may be craving warmth, companionship and plain old physical closeness. You may yearn to snuggle on the couch, feel valued and talk honestly about your practical problems and deep anxieties.

Did you know dogs are attentive listeners?

Animal shelters are among the many industries adapting to coronavirus regulations and stay-at-home orders. If you’re considering adopting or fostering a pet, you can do most of the groundwork online. Has the prospect occurred to you? Why not get a pet?

If you think YouTube cat videos are a treat, imagine a live performance all day, every day. Granted, a lot of the spectacle will involve sleeping. But as TV personality Jane Pauley once noted, “You can’t look at a sleeping cat and be tense.” An important note: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says, “We do not have evidence that companion animals, including pets, can spread COVID-19."

If you aren’t ready for a permanent arrangement, you can take a pet on a temporary basis, known as fostering. That frees shelter space and allows the animal to get used to life in a real home. If you’re new to pet ownership, or not quite sure, you can think of this arrangement as a trial run to learn whether it’s right for you. At worst, you’ll serve as a bridge between the dog or cat and its permanent placement. At best, you’ll fall hopelessly in love.

PAWS Chicago founder Paula Fasseas says that organization has established a virtual adoption process, which allows interested adopters to browse animals online and talk to an adoption counsellor without leaving their homes. If you take a pet home and change your mind, you can get a refund on fees, which range from $25 to $400. With all due respect to Garfield, cats are cheaper to adopt.

Other rescue facilities have shifted from regular visiting hours to meet-and-greet appointments.

Not only might this be a perfect time for people to adopt or foster, it may be a time when saviours are especially needed. Brian Krajewski, chairman of the Animal Services Committee for DuPage County, says that in periods of economic trouble, it’s not unusual to see an increase in the number of animals being handed over by owners or simply dumped by the side of the road.

“It happens when people lose their jobs, or they can’t afford to keep their pet, or they have to move and can’t take their pet with them," he says. Owners who are quarantined or hospitalized by COVID-19 may be unable to care for their pets or to find someone else to do it. His agency and its rescue shelter partners can use help in accommodating these animals.

If you decide to take on this humane task, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing you made a worthwhile contribution during a time of national crisis. And, from the animal you take in, you’ll get an endless supply of gratitude.

Online: https://www.chicagotribune.com/


March 24

The Baltimore Sun on the postponement of the Summer 2020 Olympic Games:

Historically, it takes a war to postpone or cancel the modern Olympic Games. Since 1896, there have been three cancellations — the 1916 Berlin games (World War I); and the 1940 and 1944 games (World War II) in Japan, then Helsinki, Finland, and, for the latter games, London and Italy. That’s a pretty high standard. There have been Olympics in some pretty bad times from the rise of Adolf Hitler’s Germany in 1936 to the post-Afghanistan invasion by the Soviet Union Olympics of 1980 which the United States and some of its western allies boycotted.

Tuesday’s announcement by Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that he and the International Olympic Committee came to an agreement to postpone the summer games to the summer of 2021 at the latest came as no big surprise under the circumstances. But it should serve as a reminder that the coronavirus outbreak will not be over in a matter of days or even weeks: The Olympics were not set to open in Tokyo until July 24.

“The leaders agreed that the Olympic Games in Tokyo could stand as a beacon of hope to the world during these troubled times and that the Olympic flame could become the light at the end of the tunnel in which the world finds itself at present,” the parties announced in a joint statement. That is a lovely thought. And it certainly is not the first time that world leaders looked to the world’s largest sporting event to salve global wounds.

Athletes like Reisterstown-native Olivia Gruver, a champion pole-vaulter, are likely disappointed. World-class skills can be a perishable commodity. But they, perhaps better than most, understand the limits of the human body and the risks conducting the games would have presented to everyone involved including their families. Meanwhile, Japan is looking at a major economic blow. The Olympics had been expected to bring more than 600,000 visitors to the island nation, and preparations already cost it more than $12 billion.

President Donald Trump is already given to comparing the battle against COVID-19 as a military conflict positioning himself as a wartime president. In a sense, the delay of the Olympics supports that narrative.

But the Olympics will rise again. Just as the U.S. and other nations will emerge from these days and weeks of quarantine. People will get back to work. Schools will eventually reopen. The economy will bounce back. But there’s a lesson in sports about health and injury. Athletes who have serious injury and try to get back in the game prematurely often cause a far worse outcome, turning a sprained knee, for example, into a candidate for surgery. Patience is as much a part of competition as motivation. Coaches often call this “playing smart.” Sometimes, you accept short-term setbacks in order to achieve long-term gain. Preventing hospitals and other medical providers from being overwhelmed by COVID-19 victims, that’s the goal here, that’s the finish line. The sacrifice has been significant but not yet to the point where it outweighs that higher purpose of saving lives.

Here’s the best part of the Olympic postponement: It wasn’t about politics. Organizers simply recognized that this was not the time. The risks were not worth the reward. Reason won the day. We cheer for elected leaders who approach the outbreak in the manner of an athlete looking to win the gold: Pay no attention to the complainers, don’t get distracted by the unimportant, listen to expert coaching, focus on the goal at hand, recognize our limits and, of course, saying a little prayer never hurt.

Online: https://www.baltimoresun.com/


March 24

The Wall Street Journal on letting private companies handle their own businesses when it comes to producing product that would combat the new coronavirus:

President Trump can’t do right by some critics no matter what he does. For three years he’s been denounced as a reckless authoritarian, and now he’s attacked for not being authoritarian enough by refusing to commandeer American industry. The truth is that private industry is responding to the coronavirus without command and control by the federal government.

Last week Mr. Trump invoked the 1950 Defence Production Act that lets a President during a national emergency order business to manufacture products for national defence, set wage and price controls and allocate materials. On Tuesday the Federal Emergency Management Agency used the Korean War-era law for the first time in this crisis to procure and distribute testing kits and face masks.

But Democrats want the Administration to take over much more of the private economy. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Sunday tweeted that the federal government should “nationalize the medical supply chain” and “order companies to make gowns, masks and gloves.” He has been echoed by Democratic governors and leaders in Congress.

Yet businesses across America are already chipping in where they can. Aerospace manufacturer Honeywell plans to hire 500 workers at its plant in Rhode Island, which currently produces safety goggles, to make millions of N95 face masks for medical professionals. 3M has doubled its global output of N95 masks and this week is sending 500,000 respirators to hot spots in the U.S.

Corporations including Apple, Facebook, Tesla and Goldman Sachs are donating millions of medical masks stockpiled for wildfires or a biochemical attack. Apparel manufacturers are repurposing textile mills to produce personal protective equipment. Hanes plans to manufacture masks using U.S. cotton at factories in El Salvador, Honduras and the Dominican Republic. Diverse supply chains can help businesses operate more flexibly during a crisis since they don’t depend on any single country for materials or workers. That’s why an America first or America only government supply order would be a mistake.

Maine-based Puritan Medical Products, one of America’s top sources for nose swabs, says it has been rushing to keep up with orders even as some workers have become sick. Directing the company to produce more coronavirus swabs won’t do any good if it can’t get more workers and could create a shortage of flu tests if it has to divert resources from other lines.

Businesses know their workforce capacities and supply chains better than the government—and how to retool them to maximize efficiency. Dozens of breweries and distillers including Anheuser-Busch and Pernod Ricard USA are churning out hand sanitizer. General Electric plans to hire more workers to produce ventilators even while it lays off thousands in aviation. Fuel cell manufacturer Bloom Energy is retrofitting hundreds of old ventilators for the state of California.

Ford said on Tuesday that it would start assembling plastic face shields and work with 3M and GE to make respirators and ventilators. General Motors is also exploring how to use its global automotive supply chain to make ventilators. Ford’s CEO said its ventilators could be available by June, and it isn’t obvious that a government takeover of manufacturing would speed this up.

It might make sense for the federal government to purchase supplies from manufacturers and then allocate them to hospitals and states with the highest need. But it doesn’t make sense to order manufacturers like Apple or GM to make nose swabs or chemical reagents for testing kits if they don’t have the expertise or suppliers to do so.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers can also help convert vacant hotels and college dorms into make-shift hospitals, as it is doing in New York. When this pandemic is over, one of the lessons is likely to be that the government should have done more earlier to purchase and surge medical equipment to hospitals.

But dictating to businesses now will lead to bureaucratic snafus and inefficiencies. President Trump said Sunday “we’re a country not based on nationalizing our business.” That’s the right impulse. America needs to emerge from this with a private economy intact and ready to grow again, not nationalized industries subject to bureaucratic and political control.

Online: https://www.wsj.com/


March 24

The London Evening Standard on crowds travelling the London Underground amid the new coronavirus:

This morning, as happened yesterday, there were scenes of packed peak-hour Tubes, trains and buses. This makes a mockery of advice to keep at least two metres apart to limit the risk of infection.

Passengers are right to be angry that they are being put at risk. Transport staff fear for their safety too. This can’t go on. The Government, the Mayor and transport bosses need a better plan.

While millions of people are working from home — or, for a time, not able to work at all — huge numbers of us still need to travel. That doesn’t just mean NHS staff or teachers keeping schools open for key workers, but everyone who keeps our city fed, safe and functioning — from engineers who make sure our broadband works to delivery drivers who bring food and fill the supermarket shelves.

They need to travel, and they have a right to do so in safety.

Last week transport bosses prepared a plan which saw some Tube stations close altogether and which cut back the frequency of services. For most of the day, this plan works. Overall demand on the Tube has fallen by 85 per cent this week.

But it’s not enough to cope with the pressure of peak travel so far in the morning. National rail services, running less often, are also crowded in places.

The obvious thing to do would be to roll back some of the cuts. But there’s a problem. Already around 750 Tube drivers are self-isolating, and as the coronavirus crisis grows, staff shortages will grow too.

London’s transport bosses say they can’t run more trains and they want to make sure they have staff to keep lines open.

We understand the challenge but in the next few days more frequent services are necessary.

What matters most is that only essential workers travel. But what counts as essential?

Many building sites remain open, and it is impossible for people on them to work remotely. Around half of London’s construction workers are self-employed and, without any other reliable income, will keep coming to work.

The pressure of numbers is causing overcrowding. One answer would be to shut construction sites.

It might come to that, but there should be no reason why, when run properly, work cannot continue at a reduced level. Construction firms should stagger their start times so not all their workers have to come in at once.

They could also limit the amount of work being done on sites.

We need a plan for this, fast. The order from the Prime Minister is clear and it is right — travel only for essential reasons and keep apart when you do.

If your journey isn’t essential, stay off the Underground.

Online: https://www.standard.co.uk/


March 23

The New York Times on the language used to refer to the coronavirus:

We’ve been down this road before, too many times. In the 14th century the Black Death provoked mass violence against Jews, Catalans, clerics and beggars; when syphilis spread in the 15th century, it was called variously the Neapolitan, French, Polish and German disease, depending on who was pointing the blame; when the plague struck Honolulu in 1899, officials burned down Chinatown. And so on, down to our times, when epidemics like Ebola, SARS and Zika fueled animus toward specific regions or peoples.

Here we are in 2020, with Asians being assailed across the United States and around the world as purported sources of the “Chinese flu,” the “Wuhan coronavirus” or simply the “foreign virus.” Once again, a mysterious, fast-spreading and sometimes lethal disease is exacerbating racism and hatred — only now with the help of the potent megaphone of social media.

As the coronavirus has spread from its beachhead in Wuhan, China, old anti-Asian prejudices have spread with it, from the “Yellow Peril” canard that led to the lynching of Chinese in the 1870s to stereotypes of Chinese as dirty and decrepit.

As The Times reported on Monday, Chinese-Americans and other Asians lumped together with them by racists are being beaten, spat on, yelled at and insulted from coast to coast, driving some members of the maligned minority to purchase firearms in the fear of worse to come as the pandemic deepens.

The United States is not alone in this blight of xenophobia. Japan’s Kyodo News agency described similar incidents of anti-Asian bigotry wherever the coronavirus has struck: Asian students pelted with eggs in Leicestershire, England, or people in Egypt yelling out “corona” when passing Asians in the street. Vile posts on social media have made graphic threats in rants against Asians over the coronavirus.

However much mystery still surrounds the coronavirus, these are not the Dark Ages, and there really should be no reason to remind people that this terrible new virus makes no distinction among races or nations. Though it makes good medical sense to keep a distance from people who have been to an area with a high rate of infection — which today is effectively anywhere — it is foolish and malicious to hold the Chinese (or any other) people responsible for the spread of the virus, or to assume that they are somehow more likely to be its carriers.

A time of great fear and danger requires solidarity, humanity, sacrifice and hope, and not hysteria or hatred. That should be the message of the world’s political, social, religious and corporate leaders as they race to find ways to cope with the lethal virus. Many leaders have done just that.

It is more than unfortunate, then, that President Trump, some members of his cabinet and some conservative politicians have opted to fan the bigotry by deliberately using the term “Wuhan virus” or “Chinese virus.” Mr. Trump, who spent previous months calling it the coronavirus, started defending the use of “Chinese virus” last week. Photographs of a text of the speech he was reading seemed to show “Corona” lined out and “Chinese” written in the president’s hand. Mr. Trump tweeted support of the Asian-American community on Monday, but his many supporters online had already embraced his formulation.

In tying the virus to China, the president has also adopted the argument of Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, that referring to Wuhan or China is payback for Chinese disinformation and for Beijing’s delay in letting the world know of the outbreak. Of course, it is possible to hold the Chinese government accountable for its handling of the crisis and its spread of misinformation without maligning a nation of more than 1.3 billion people or the people of Chinese descent who make their homes in nations around the world.

The xenophobia and prejudices that result from naming new infectious diseases after places, people or animals are the reasons the World Health Organization has urged against doing so, and instead using generic descriptive terms like “coronavirus.” Names like Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, Spanish flu, swine flu or monkey pox, the W.H.O. said, can have serious consequences, whether provoking a backlash against members of a particular community or prompting needless slaughter of food animals.

In the end, though, the anti-Asian hatreds spread by the coronavirus are not solely the product of politics, but of the deep fears that have always accompanied the outbreak of lethal pathogens. It is for all Americans to try, in whatever ways they can, to remain united and compassionate as the disease invades all facets of our lives.

Online: https://www.nytimes.com/


March 22

The SunSentinel on whether the U.S. was unprepared for the new coronavirus:

It may never be known how many people caught the new coronavirus while standing for hours in densely packed international airports, waiting for the government to screen them. That happened even as some governors and mayors began taking drastic steps to eliminate crowds, and long after sporting leagues had voluntarily shut down to limit the contagion.

Like almost everything else the federal government has done in this crisis, it came desperately late, was conceived on the fly, and confirmed that there had been an appalling absence of planning for just the sort of a pandemic that experts had warned was inevitable.

That unreadiness was a monstrous failure to apply what the government already knew about its vulnerabilities.

During 2019, the administration had simulated just such a scenario. As disclosed by the New York Times this week, the Department of Health and Human Services conducted an exercise code-named “Crimson Contagion” to gauge how public and private agencies across the nation would respond to an imaginary pandemic eerily like the new coronavirus. It theorized that 110 million Americans would be infected, 7.7 million would be hospitalized and 586,000 would die.

The exercise caught the government woefully unprepared.

The 46-page staff report, stamped “for official use only” and not to be disclosed to anyone who didn’t “need to know,” identified rampant confusion and bureaucratic turf wars. State agencies and hospitals did not know what equipment was at hand or could be found. Too little emergency money was in reserve. States were at odds over whether to close schools.

Among the findings:

— "The current medical countermeasure supply chain and production capacity cannot meet the demands imposed by nations during a global influenza pandemic.”

— "States experienced multiple challenges requesting resources from the federal government due to a lack of standardized, well-understood and properly executed resource request procedures.”

— "States questioned federal resource allocation decisions in response to an influenza pandemic.”

— “A significant topic of concern centred around the inadequacies of existing executive branch and statutory authorities to provide HHS with the requisite mechanisms to serve successfully as the lead federal agency in response to an influenza pandemic.”

What was done with this alarming information other than keeping it secret from the American people and, as far as we know, from Congress?

A copy went to the White House, which now claims it took steps to improve the quality and quantity of flu vaccines. The response fell far short.

Of all the subsequent failures, the most consequential are probably the dire shortages of testing kits, protective gear for health care workers and first responders, and respirators for the most critically ill victims.

In South Korea, by contrast, there had been only four known cases when health officials took emergency steps to develop and mass-produce tests. For weeks, that nation has been testing more than 10,000 people a day and new cases are declining while ours are nearly doubling daily.

The blame for America’s unreadiness is widely shared, with HHS Secretary Alex Azar and President Donald Trump at the top of the list.

It is doubtful that Trump even saw the report or would have cared to read it. But as Harry Truman said, the buck stops at the president’s desk. He is responsible also for having spent two months downplaying the danger after it had become obvious to almost everyone else.

“We pretty much shut it down coming from China,” he said. He promised that “by April … it miraculously goes away,” and that it will “disappear.” He even called it a “hoax,” fostered by Democrats to hurt him politically. Now, despite the video clips, he claims that he knew all along it was serious.

It took the collapse of the stock markets to get his attention. The president who berated Barack Obama for how he healed the economic damage of 2008 is now repudiating almost everything he and other Republicans have long said against the government’s responsibility to rescue a staggering economy.

But yes, dramatic action is necessary. The major questions are in the details.

Without doubt, there needs to be massive help to individuals and small businesses crippled by the necessary social distancing. Some industries, like the airlines, are too important to be allowed to fail.

But sympathy comes especially hard for the airlines, for which Trump proposes $50 billion. They squandered their tax cut windfalls, and then some, on buying back their stocks in order to boost value, which meant executives would be paid more. They spared almost nothing for investment or reserves. Over the past decade, 96% of the free cash flow at the biggest airlines went to buy back their own shares.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren and other Democrats properly demand strong terms for the airlines, which should be applied to all industries that accept emergency funding. The essential ones include a ban on stock buybacks and a three-year freeze on dividends and executive bonuses.

Moreover, any bailouts should come with a lien on subsequent profits, if not an outright stake in equity.

After coping with the current emergency, Congress must demand to know why America was so unprepared; why the warnings of the “Crimson Contagion” exercise were ignored, and what should be done about the institutional weaknesses that bitter experience is confirming.

This could best be done by a bipartisan commission, along the lines of the 9-11 Commission. Even a new and better president will need a new and better system than today’s fragmented array of turf warriors.

One key question: Should there be a permanent, career, nonpolitical health directorate with independence akin to that of the Federal Reserve?

The fundamental duty of any government is to protect its citizens. That applies as fully to public health as to defence against foreign and domestic enemies.

The military has contingency plans for almost any imaginable attack, or so we are told. After Ebola, MERS, SARS, Swine Flue, Zika and HIV-Aids, why were the civilian agencies so unprepared for yet another pandemic?

This won’t be the last one. But it had better be the last for which our nation was unready.

Online: https://www.sun-sentinel.com/

News from © The Associated Press, 2020
The Associated Press

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