war of words

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It’s been a long time coming but well worth the wait: Donald Trump has finally got something right. Almost. His off-hand analysis of the coronavirus crisis, where he helpfully explained “Nobody really knows. It’s going to disappear. One day it’s like a miracle, it will disappear”, is surprisingly on the money. As an untreatable virus no-one really does knows much about it, and it will eventually, for the majority of the population, and for all intents and purposes, disappear. Sadly, we’ll all have had to have a far greater exposure to COVID-19, allowing our immune systems the time to build up a natural antibody resistance to it. Which could take a generation, or more.

This week has seen the number of cases, worldwide, soar to over 100,000 with a death toll that approaches 4000, mainly in China but with most European countries now suffering some level of mortality. Even with precautions, and constant hand-washing, stopping the virus’s spread seems unavoidable. Our worst fears may still be averted but honesty, clear non-political, non-partisan communication and collaboration are immediate necessities.

The coronavirus calamity represents a battle in the war on fake news. From the onset, China sought to cover-up the initial outbreaks and severely reprimanded the doctor who first sought to bring its seriousness to everyone’s attention. He subsequently succumbed to the virus and died. Iran’s reaction mirrored this, with the country’s deputy health minister becoming infected only after comically playing-down its importance on national TV. Ditto South Korea. This reaction highlights the tendency of authoritarian countries to hush-up the truth and avoid embarrassment rather than addressing the issue. And who else is playing this game?

The Don’s assault on truth, fact and integrity continues unabated and in exactly the same style as those authoritarian leaders he so admires. Brazenly contradicting the experts’ analyses he has continually under-reported the number of actual cases, promised that the number will fall rather than increase, claimed that the US is “pretty close to airtight” and that the virus is no more “than the common cold, folks”. Furthermore, its impact is “hyped and weaponised”. Both we, and he, might not be able to match Xi Jinping’s ability to lock-down whole cities and regions but it’s free speech, full open disclosure and cross-border support that will save lives.