|When will the Chinese government be held accountable for the spread of coronavirus?
Marcus Kolga: Canada will have to work with our allies to assess the Chinese government’s responsibility when it comes to the spread of coronavirus and to ensure that they are held to account where appropriate
Marcus Kolga March 17, 2020
Donald Trump was warned at the end of January by one of his top White House advisers that coronavirus had the potential to kill hundreds of thousands of Americans and derail the US economy, unless tough action were taken immediately, new memos have revealed.
The memos were written by Trump’s economic adviser, Peter Navarro, and circulated via the National Security Council widely around the White House and federal agencies.
They show that even within the Trump administration alarm bells were ringing by late January, at a time when the president was consistently downplaying the threat of Covid-19.
According to figures from Johns Hopkins University in Maryland, by Tuesday more than 368,000 cases of Covid-19 had been confirmed in the US and more than 11,000 people had died. New York is the hardest-hit state: on Tuesday the governor, Andrew Cuomo, said the death toll was nearly 5,500, after the biggest single-day increase.
More than 1,000 have died in New Jersey and more than 700 in Michigan. California and Louisiana are also leading hotspots.
As Cuomo spoke, and as reports about the Navarro memos dominated media coverage, Trump tweeted angrily.
The president complained about the World Health Organization and a report by a federal health department watchdog which details serious problems faced by US hospitals dealing with the pandemic.
“The WHO really blew it,” Trump wrote. “For some reason, funded largely by the United States, yet very China centric. We will be giving that a good look. Fortunately I rejected their advice on keeping our borders open to China early on. Why did they give us such a faulty recommendation?”
The WHO has cautioned against travel bans, saying they are not effective and can be counterproductive. In January, two days after the first Navarro memo, Trump placed restrictions on travel from China but did not totally close it down, as he has repeatedly claimed. The president’s complaint on Tuesday was resonant of attacks on other international bodies including Nato and the World Trade Organization.
Trump also attacked the office of the inspector general for the Department of Health and Human Services at his White House briefing on Monday.
On Twitter on Tuesday, he asked: “Why didn’t the IG, who spent [eight] years with the Obama administration (Did she Report on the failed H1N1 Swine Flu debacle where 17,000 people died?), want to talk to the Admirals, Generals, VP & others in charge, before doing her report. Another Fake Dossier!”
The official in question, Christi Grimm, is principal deputy inspector general and has worked for the health department since 1999, serving under Bill Clinton, George W Bush, Barack Obama and now Trump.
Trump has regularly attacked Obama for his handling of public health matters including the outbreak of H1N1, or swine flu, in 2009. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says about 12,500 Americans died in that episode.
Trump’s reference to a “fake dossier” echoed his complaints about political opposition research work carried out by a former British intelligence officer, Christopher Steele, and subsequently at the heart of the investigation of Russian election interference and links between Trump and Moscow.
Trump fired the inspector general for the intelligence community, Michael Atkinson, on Friday night, over his role in sending to Congress a whistleblower complaint about Trump’s approaches to Ukraine which led to the president’s impeachment.
The Navarro memos, first reported by the New York Times and Axios, were written by Navarro on 29 January and 23 February. The first memo, composed on the day Trump set up a White House coronavirus taskforce, gave a worst-case scenario of the virus killing more than half a million Americans.
According to the Times, it said: “The lack of immune protection or an existing cure or vaccine would leave Americans defenseless in the case of a full-blown coronavirus outbreak on US soil. This lack of protection elevates the risk of the coronavirus evolving into a full-blown pandemic, imperiling the lives of millions of Americans.”
The second memo went even further, predicting that a Covid-19 pandemic, left unchecked, could kill 1.2 million Americans and infect as many as 100 million.
This was not the first time Trump and his White House team were warned that the virus had the potential to devastate the US and needed to be dealt with quickly and firmly.
Senior scientists, epidemiologists and health emergency experts in the US and around the world delivered that clear message early on in the crisis, only for Trump to continue belittling the scale of the threat which he compared falsely to the dangers of seasonal flu.
But the emergence of the memos from such a senior aide within the White House will make it much more difficult for Trump to claim – as he has done on multiple occasions – that nobody was able to predict the severity of the disease.
As the pandemic has swept across the country, the president has come under mounting criticism for having done too little, too late in response, leading to mass shortages of diagnostic testing, protective gear for frontline health workers and ventilators for the very sick. theguardian.com
How Vietnam is Winning its War Against COVID-19
Published:Apr. 6, 2020
Author:To Trieu Hai (Tracy) Ly, Áia Pacific Foundation
As of April 6, Vietnam, a country of 95.5 million people, reported 245 confirmed cases of COVID-19, 95 recovered cases, and zero fatalities. Vietnam is one of the very few countries that has reportedly suffered no deaths due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While most countries around the world took a wait-and-see approach, Vietnam reacted quickly to the outbreak in Wuhan. Due to its close proximity to and deep economic links with China, in late December Vietnam’s central government began closely monitoring how the situation was evolving in Hubei Province. An emergency meeting was organized on January 15 with high-level officials from the Ministry of Health, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to discuss measures to combat the coronavirus in Vietnam. When the first case of the virus was discovered in Vietnam on January 23, the country was prepared.
Vietnam is one of the very few countries that has reportedly suffered no deaths due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Following that first emergency meeting in January, the new Steering Committee for COVID-19 Control and Prevention issued a Response Plan to contain the virus, which was promptly implemented by provincial departments of health. As part of the Plan, schools were suspended after the Lunar New Year holidays (on January 16) as a precautionary measure, even though no cases had been reported at that time. To further the country’s containment efforts, the Plan urged Vietnam’s Ministry of Health to quickly release guidelines on control and prevention of the virus and called for an all-of-country mobilization under the direction of the central government, including the entire political system, public security forces, the army, and the general population. By February 26, Vietnamese health authorities had managed to keep the number of infections low: 16 cases, which were all treated and discharged from hospitals.
Much has been made of the successful containment efforts of South Korea, Singapore, and Taiwan, but very little has been said of Vietnam’s response to the pandemic. Unlike South Korea, Vietnam initially had only limited testing capacity and carried out about 15,000 tests by March 30, a much lower number than the 395,194 tests conducted in South Korea by the same date. With lessons learned from successfully battling the SARS epidemic in 2003, Vietnam instituted two decisive measures in containing the spread of COVID-19: Aggressive contact tracing and strict monitoring of the quarantining of suspected infections. Vietnam believes these measures will assist it in its goal of limiting its infected cases to less than 1,000.
According to WHO, a contact-tracing process comprises three steps: Contact identification, contact listing, and contact follow-up. Vietnam has successfully conducted tracing via the quick identification of infectious contacts based on the Ministry of Health’s classifications of infected, suspected, and exposed cases of COVID-19 and the rapid mobilization of health professionals, public security personnel, the military, and civil servants to implement the tracing. For example, in the case of Patient 91 identified on March 19, the mobilization included 300 public personnel who participated in the contact tracing campaign. Businesses visited by the patient were isolated and people who had been in contact with him were tracked down via surveillance camera footage and then taken into quarantine facilities. The whole process took less than two days and had a definite effect on minimizing the spread of the virus from Patient 91.
Whole neighbourhoods where an infected patient is identified are isolated and disinfected.
The first case of mass quarantine in Vietnam took place on February 12 in Son Loi commune, Vinh Phuc Province, where five infected cases were discovered. The commune, home to a large number of Vietnamese workers who had returned home from Wuhan, was isolated for 20 days. on March 7, Vietnam intensified its containment measures at its airports by mandating medical declarations for all arriving passengers. Further quarantines followed.
Control activities at main entrance of Hanoi's Bach Mai Hospital, locked down as a major COVID-19 outbreak area beginning March 28, 2020. | Photo: Getty Images
The first form of quarantine under Vietnam’s COVID-19 measures is home confinement, in which whole neighbourhoods where an infected patient is identified are isolated and disinfected. The second form, applied to those who arrive in Vietnam from virus-hit countries, is concentrated quarantine in publicly-managed facilities, such as universities and hospitals or military-run camps. To ensure transparency and accountability, citizens can easily access information on and the locations of all quarantine camps on Zalo – the most popular social platform in Vietnam. The latest high-profile case of mass quarantine is Bach Mai Hospital in Hanoi – one of the largest hospitals in Vietnam. The quarantine was imposed beginning on March 28, after more than 30 infected cases were identified at the hospital. A nation-wide campaign has since been carried out to trace more than 40,000 visitors to the hospital between March 10 and 27.
Strict monitoring of suspected infections
Technology has played a key role in the monitoring of suspected and confirmed infected patients in Vietnam. The Ministry of Health has worked with tech-firm partners to develop an online reporting system in which suspected and confirmed cases of COVID-19, as well as people in close contact, are entered into a database available in real time to the government in Hanoi. In addition, a mobile app, NCOVI, has been introduced by the Ministry of Information and Communications (MIC) to allow citizens to proactively declare their health status on a daily basis. Hanoi has also launched a mobile app, SmartCity, to track infected, quarantined, and recovered cases. Patients are required to install the app in their phones, which raises an alarm and sends notifications to the heads of residential districts if they move 20-to-30 metres away from quarantine areas, or houses for self-isolated cases.
Citizens have been co-operative with the government, largely supporting its use of tracking apps.
Accurate and real-time data collected through these two apps has proven very useful to the government in shaping its response to the outbreak. Nevertheless, the use of technology has elicited concerns over data privacy and mass surveillance. The identities of infected patients have been leaked on social media platforms, highlighting Vietnam’s poor regulatory framework around the protection of personal data.
Although the government of Vietnam has failed to protect the privacy of infected patients, citizens have been co-operative with the government, largely supporting its use of tracking apps, as well as state-funded campaigns to encourage hand-washing and hygiene. According to a recent survey, 62 per cent of Vietnamese say that they are satisfied with the level of response from the government in fighting COVID-19, with 17 per cent of respondents stating that their government’s response was “too little.”
Lessons for Canada
Most concerns over privacy issues and mass surveillance in Vietnam have originated with international observers. This suggests a different view on privacy and personal data protection in Vietnam, which stands in stark contrast to Canada, where data protection is a significant concern. With the number of infected cases in Canada steadily rising, the Government of Canada is under pressure to do more to trace the contacts of confirmed patients.
A number of proposals from companies in ontario and Quebec for using apps that would utilize Bluetooth or GPS data to trace contacts have been submitted to provincial and federal levels of government. Canada’s federal Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act and Privacy Act allow personal information to be collected, used, or disclosed for specific reasons in the context of a public health crisis. But if there were large-scale data leaks as tracing apps were rolled out in Canada, the government could risk losing public trust in these measures.
Vietnam’s approach to contact tracing and its experience with data breaches are instructive for Canadian decision-makers who need to take great caution in preventing the public disclosure of Canadians’ identities during the pandemic. South Korea, Singapore, and Taiwan have all been successful in limiting the outbreak of COVID-19, and there are many lessons to be gleaned. But Vietnam’s unique experience, especially how it relied on technology to deal with its initial outbreak, can also prove insightful to Canadians.
Vietnamese hat seller turns to homemade face shields in virus fight
HO CHI MINH CITY (Reuters) - For nearly three decades, Quach My Linh has sold hats at Ba Chieu market in Vietnam’s bustling Ho Chi Minh City.
Quach My Linh, a hat vendor at Ba Chieu market, shows the plastic face masks with stickers that she makes to donate to hospitals during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam, April 5, 2020. REUTERS/Yen Duong
But following a nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus, the 42-year-old vendor has turned to making plastic face shields for frontline medical workers instead.
“I was once a patient myself and I feel like my family owes doctors a lot”, said Linh, who received hospital treatment a few years ago for a blood-related illness.
“I want to make these shields to keep them healthy. If they are healthy, then they can protect us”.
Last week, Vietnam began a 15-day social distancing campaign to slow the spread of the virus that has seen most non-essential businesses shut, including Linh’s stall.
There have been 241 reported cases of the coronavirus in Vietnam and no reported deaths, according to the health ministry. Aggressive contact tracing and a mass quarantine programme have helped keep that tally low.
When the lockdown began, Linh assembled a group of family members, friends and fellow vendors to start making the face shields. They can be worn in addition to face masks to better protect medical workers from the tiny virus-carrying droplets released by infected patients.
In just a few days, Linh and her gang of volunteers made almost 1,000 face shields, she said, and distributed them to at least three nearby hospitals.
Linh said she had drawn on her experience as a hat vendor to line the shields with comfortable padding.
She watched media reports of doctors in the United States and consulted a friend who works as a nurse there to perfect the design, she said.
The finishing touch? A sticker, with an important message to Vietnam’s medical workers: “Fight Covid-19 disease”.
“Keep believing, because we are always with you
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