How Covid-19 exposed America’s shiny but ineffective governance structures

The coronavirus pandemic has been nothing short of an eye opener and it is now clear to see who was forearmed

In Summary

• The virus has dealt a blow to the image America has flaunted for decades is the lack of leadership both on the global stage and back at home

• 30 million Americans have filed initial unemployment claims since mid-March


US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping
US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping

For those of us who have been ardent followers of television series such as House and Grey’s Anatomy or marveled at movies like Contagion, Hollywood had made us believe that should a virus outbreak occur, the American health system, security apparatus and valiant heroes would swing into action and save the world.

That was before Donald Trump became the president responsible for managing a real pandemic.

In one of his latest attempts to downplay the true devastating effects Covid-19 has wrought on America, Trump tweeted on March 26:“For all of the political hacks out there, if I hadn’t done my job well, and early, we would have lost 1.5 to 2 Million People, as opposed to the 100,000 plus…”

With a population that is slightly above 330 million people, losing 100,000 people to the pandemic might look like an achievement as Trump wants to put it but it is not lost on us that China, with a population of 1.3 billion people has so far recorded  4,634 deaths.

The socioeconomic turmoil that has been bubbling up in the US over centuries has finally imploded after the country’s handling of the virus exacerbated inequalities in society, taking a disparate toll on low-income Americans, people of colour and others who were already marginalised before the crisis hit.

The first house of cards to fall behind America’s glossy façade was the health system. The virus has ravaged the country’s healthcare system despite spending up to $175 billion to deal with the pandemic.

Who would have thought that the leading economy in the world that spends more than 17 per cent of its GDP on healthcare and where people come from all over the world to be treated in its allegedly top medical centres would have a problem providing basic medical supplies such as protective gear for its health workers and testing kits?

With a healthcare system that heavily relies on insurance, a corporate entity that is driven by profits, cases of the poor not getting help once infected due to lack of insurance are spiraling out of control. This is the reason why minorities, especially African-Americans are some of the worst affected by Covid-19 as they live in areas that make it difficult to maintain social-distancing.

Minority communities also have to endure higher levels of pre-existing medical conditions such as diabetes, cancer and high blood pressure, making them more vulnerable to coronavirus.

Another pointedly ineffective aspect of the American economy that has been brought to the fore by the pandemic is the lack of social security for workers. Unlike some leading economies in Europe and Asia, the US doesn’t require employers to grant sick leave and paid time-off to its workers.

As a result, 30 million Americans or 10 per cent of the population have filed initial unemployment claims since mid-March according to the US Department of Labour. With low-wage workers  —mostly made of minorities — being vulnerable to layoffs, the pandemic has laid bare the fact that America’s system for providing unemployment aid isn’t generous or efficient enough to subsidise wages or provide safeguards to limit layoffs.

The other blow the virus has dealt on the superpower image America has flaunted for decades is the lack of leadership on the global stage and back at home with the current presidency. When President Trump instructed his administration to temporarily halt funding to the World Health Organization over its handling of the pandemic in April, the majority of world leaders termed it as a dangerous step in the wrong direction.

Back at home, despite Trump seeking a scapegoat for his dismal performance against the pandemic by blaming WHO and China, the rising numbers of infections and deaths tell a different story.

Unlike China which imposed its first lockdown one day after the WHO mission to China issued a statement saying  there was evidence of human-to-human transmission in Wuhan on January 22, the Trump administration which declared Covid-19 a public health emergency on January 31 waited until mid-March to start introducing social distancing rules and purchasing large quantities of medical supplies.

To be forewarned is to be forearmed. The coronavirus pandemic has been nothing short of an eye opener and it is now clear to see who was forearmed, and it is definitely not the US.

The author is a freelance writer who comments on topical issues. [email protected]