I have to lead today with the obvious, otherwise the elephant in the room would have been unbearable. On April 14th the POTUS announced in a Rose Garden briefing that the US would cease to fund the WHO. He lays various charges against the organisation for its failures. Let me be honest and clear, the WHO has not been without its faults in the early stages of the COVID crisis, especially in accepting China’s account of no evidence of person to person transmission. But this is not what this move is about, and his motives are paper thin. POTUS is increasingly like an angry teenager regarding escalating criticism of his stupidity and handling of the domestic (and international) dimensions of the crisis, and he is clearl1y blame shifting in this move. As he put it yesterday, “Everyone knows what is going on here”. The timing of the move is clearly terrible, in the middle of a pandemic that is ravaging his own country. But the US, although the largest single contributing state to WHO, is only 14.5% of the budget, and the US also owes two years of contributions (as it does to many UN agencies). Can other nations not just fill the hole, as they surely will?
Trump blames the organisation for a preventable “20-fold” worldwide increase in spread. Where on earth did he get that figure from? Pelosi sends a letter to the House savaging Trump as an incompetent liar. Twitter and the news media is awash with revulsion and disbelief. But for Trump WHO just “failed in its basic duty”:
"This would have saved thousands of lives and avoided worldwide economic damage. Instead, the WHO willingly took China's assurances to face value... and defended the actions of the Chinese government."
White House reporters pointed out, however, that he had in fact given high praise to the Chinese response. They are emblazoned on Tweets and statements in January. For example, this on January 25th
“China has been working very hard to contain the Coronavirus. The United States greatly appreciates their efforts and transparency. It will all work out well. In particular, on behalf of the American People, I want to thank President Xi!”
All this on the same day that the CDC announces that some 9,000 US health care workers have now died. Pure and simple just unacceptable attrition of human life in the world’s wealthiest nation. I cannot accept that Trump will win in November, and for the US to be taken seriously internationally ever again it must get this blundering, dangerous man out.
Returning to India, which has preoccupied me in the past, the BBC carries brief report on the migrant workers. Many now home in their regions of origin, the predictably poor states like Bihar, are in mandatory 14 days quarantine centres. Many are just slipping out in the night and returning home. Even village chiefs are unable to stop this. This is obviously a disaster for poor, rural India, as transmission will follow as eggs are eggs. Health services in these regions are rudimentary to say the least. I wonder about the conditions in these centres, many men couped up; many of them have been forcibly sprayed and beaten on their way home. In India, as elsewhere, it is the poor who will bear the brunt of this.
Had lovely chat with Colin Tukuitonga today. He has agreed to joining the diary project and go hard on the Pacific. He is upbeat about many countries so far. I voice my concerns about PNG, and it is obvious what will happen there if COVID takes hold, and alongside HIV and TB. That is 8 million souls with a gutted health system.
In the UK it seems that we don’t really know true mortality from COVID. But the Office for National Statistics (ONS) releases analysis of figures from the week ending April 3rd, and it is simply staggering. Just numbers really, but they point to the true scale of what has unfolded at home. They report that there were 6000 more deaths in that week than the same week last year. Only 3500 of that number had COVID listed on their death certificate leaving 2500 unexplained increased deaths. In the same week, London saw a 62% rise in mortality as compared to its all-time record week. Something similar plays out in all regions. This is just one week! There is only one viable explanation.
GSK and Sanofi have formed an alliance to develop a vaccine, one of the two biggest of a very small pool engaged in vaccine development. I suppose this is good news, and hopefully any positive developments will be shared equitable and without monopoly. This would not be true to form of Pharma, but these are unprecedented times, as the saying goes. Elsewhere, 19 more people died today in Wales, and I read the very sad story of one Philippine nurse who died. Her partner is also critically ill. All I can think of is how far she is from home, working in care homes, all her family giving sad quotes to the BBC. Nurses are just the best; they are invariably direct, funny and caring. Just never cross one.
The Welsh are now singing to thank the NHS on their doorsteps. Sometimes we are a walking cliché as a nation and sometimes it is just brilliant. I wish I could listen with the kids to the national anthem belted out in the streets. It must be glorious.
African states are using Addis as a new hub for solidarity actions. Flight solidarity one took off loaded with PPE and so on, hopping to other cities. Good for them. India reaches out to ASEAN for antibody test kits. It does not all have to be zero sum, we can cooperate and help each other. That is perhaps inevitable as mutual dependence will be the only handle on a pandemic now confirmed in 177 countries