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Virus blame game continues to spread

WASHINGTON — The coronavirus did apparently originate in China. Now President Donald Trump wants to punish that country for its role in letting the virus spread to the United States. This is just another poor excuse to push the same protectionist policies he has always favored. It’s also a way for him to deflect responsibility for the failures of his own administration and the many agencies that intrude daily into our lives.

Trump’s administration is reportedly exploring the exact details of potential punishments to inflict on China. Among the options being discussed by senior U.S officials are $1 trillion in tariffs on Chinese products and canceling part of the U.S. debt obligation to China. While both of these options may hurt China, when all is said and done, Americans will be hurt the most.

This is true even though the Chinese government unquestionably covered up the COVID-19 outbreak and failed to take important measures that could have reduced the virus’s spread. While there may be a constructive way to put China on notice, if blame is the name of this game, there’s plenty to go around. For instance, some could blame Trump for buying the early Chinese propaganda, as he did in his Jan. 24 tweet: “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!”

Trump is also much to blame for the fact that the trade war he started with China has reduced Americans’ access to many essential medical supplies to fight the pandemic, including thermometers, face masks, medical-grade personal protective gear and hand sanitizer. It’s not for lack of being warned. Economists, health care professionals and even lobbyists all told the president that his tariffs would create shortages and higher prices. The president refused to listen. Now Americans and health care professionals on the frontlines are paying an exorbitant price.

Of course, some blame also belongs to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and to the Food and Drug Administration. The first of these agencies is supposed to protect us from this kind of pandemic, while the other is supposed to oversee the production of the drugs, vaccines and technologies that could save us from this nightmare. Let us never forget the crushing events that are unfolding before our eyes and the lives lost to this virus. Some bureaucrats at each agency spread misinformation and displayed a certain level of incompetence.

For instance, CDC employee emails obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request reveal that on Jan. 28, CDC director Robert Redfield sent emails to his employees to inform them that “the virus isn’t spreading in the US at this time.” In reality, it was indeed spreading and had been for weeks. A month later, the CDC was still telling state and local government officials that its “testing capacity is more than adequate to meet current testing demands.” It wasn’t. One day, we were supposed to wear masks; the next, we weren’t; then we find out that, yes, we should wear masks.

In truth, the CDC and the FDA did their most destructive work when they worked as a tag team. While the FDA prevented private and academic development of COVID-19 tests for weeks, the CDC arrogantly denied Americans access to functioning foreign tests only to produce its own defective tests. If time was of the essence to reduce the number of people infected and killed by the virus, the CDC and the FDA only prolonged the testing process when they should have been expediting it. The result has been to force most Americans into their homes voluntarily or under state government mandates, with no hope of getting out because of the lack of testing.

I could go on. The bottom line is that the Chinese government behaved like we expect such an authoritarian regime to behave. Only our president seems to be surprised by that. However, American public officials — including all the members of Congress who passed a poorly designed and massive spending bill — deserve a lot of the blame for the way they behaved during this crisis, too.

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Veronique de Rugy is a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. To find out more about Veronique de Rugy and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

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