Much is still unknown about Covid-19, but one thing is certain: Owning a gun does not make you any safer from it. But that didn t stop the Trump administration from caving to the firearm industry by treating gun store workers just like the real frontline responders-- police, doctors, nurses-- in new advisory guidelines issued to state and local officials that designate who should be allowed to keep working during the pandemic. It is both shameful and nonsensical for the federal government to deem gun stores essential, a special privilege that millions of other shuttered small businesses can only dream about. The argument for keeping grocery stores and pharmacies open during a pandemic is self-evident. People need to be able to access food and medication in order to preserve public health, so it s worth the risk of allowing people to congregate -- while observing social distancing. This calculus clearly doesn t apply to firearm sales. In fact, when you examine the evidence, it s clear that allowing gun stores to stay open in a time of self-quarantine and heightened stress will likely send more people to the hospital just when our medical system is already under unprecedented strain. We only need to look back to the 2008 financial crisis for indications that the economic conditions created by coronavirus could be deadly. Researchers estimate that 4,750 more Americans died by suicide during the Great Recession than would have been expected otherwise, and they attribute some of this increase to rising unemployment. Given that this week s unemployment numbers already dwarf what we saw then, there is good reason to believe that the risk of suicide will rise, and that s even more true for people with easy access to a gun -- about half of all suicide deaths are with a firearm, according to CDC data analyzed by the Pew Research Center. All told, an average of 22,926 people die by gun suicide every year. But firearm suicide is not the only form of gun violence that needs to be considered when factoring in whether to keep gun stores open. At least 4.6 million American children live in homes with unsecured guns, and many of those children are now confined to those homes, with lots of free time on their hands -- and lots of new worries. Recently, a 13-year-old in New Mexico was killed when his cousin allegedly shot him with a gun that the cousin said he brought home to "protect" himself during the pandemic. In addition, parents -- especially parents who own guns -- should be aware that research has shown a link between social isolation and suicide in young people. Those victims of domestic violence who are now staying inside with their abusers around the clock are also at greater risk. Cities across the country are seeing dramatic spikes in domestic violence calls. For instance, as coronavirus cases increased in Tennessee, the Nashville YWCA reported a 55% increase in calls during the first two weeks of March when compared to last year during the same time. And again, the combination of more domestic violence incidents and more guns in circulation is cause for alarm. When a firearm is present in domestic violence situations, women are five times more likely to be killed, according to a study. The first step to reducing these types of gun violence is ensuring that every gun in every home is securely stored. That s why the organization I represent, Everytown for Gun Safety, is aggressively promoting our Be SMART program, which encourages gun owners to keep their firearms locked, unloaded, and separate from ammunition. Unfortunately, such common sense efforts to prevent avoidable tragedies are being undermined by the gun industry, which jumped at the opportunity to exploit the pandemic for every last cent. On the marketing front, they ve been using time-tested fear tactics to drive up gun sales. These days, the National Rifle Association s social media feeds read like something out of a dystopian fantasy novel. According to the gun lobby, we live in "a dangerous world" of "gun-grabbing politicians" and "reported prisoner furloughs," a world where "the 2nd Amendment is often all we have." In a new low, the NRA is using this deadly Covid-19 pandemic to advance its radical agenda and sell more guns. And while the group argues that closing gun stores violates the Second Amendment, there s nothing in the Constitution that says the Second Amendment is a super-right above other rights, or that requires gun stores to be singled out for special treatment during the most serious public health emergency of the last century. On the political front, lobbyists for the gun industry have leaned hard on public officials to let gun stores stay open, and the Trump administration folded like a house of straw. This should come as no surprise -- in 2016, the NRA spent more than $30 million on President Donald Trump s election effort, making the organization the single largest independent outside spender to his campaign. In the years since, Trump has faithfully followed the gun lobby s lead and refused to take major action to prevent gun violence. Luckily, the Trump administration s guidelines for essential businesses that should stay open during the pandemic are only advisory, and state and local officials are free to do what s best for their residents. They should consider that with every additional day that gun stores stay open, the number of unsecured guns in American homes will rise. The risk of those guns falling into the wrong hands is one we simply can t afford. It s time for America s lawmakers to hold gun stores to the same rules as other nonessential businesses, so our nation s doctors and nurses can focus on what is truly essential: fighting the coronavirus.
The world is in the midst of a serious fight against a virus that has wrought havoc on the world economy with grave consequences on the political and social stability of most countries. In the wealthiest powers, for example the United States, struggling against the coronavirus has demonstrated that not every American will have the chance to find quick treatment if he is down on the social ladder. The US administration, in a rare demonstration of bipartisanship, collaborated with both Houses of Congress to pass a bill to inject $2 trillion into the economy. The Saudi government, in its capacity as the chair of the G-20 this year, had called for an emergency summit, through videoconference, 26 March to deal with the coronavirus. Group leaders agreed on a financial package worth $5 trillion for the sake of jumpstarting the world economy. The Arab world has not demonstrated yet a collective will to work as a group of nations to deal with the outbreak. Aside from bilateral contacts at the level of heads of state, no attempt has been made to call for an Arab summit to tackle the pandemic. For example, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi was on the phone with the king of Jordan and the Tunisian president separately to discuss how to coordinate bilateral efforts to better fight the pandemic. The United Arab Emirates sent aid to Iran and Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Zayed called President Bashar Al-Assad last week to assure the Syrian government that the UAE will stand by Syria and will provide much-needed assistance to the Syrian people, and more particularly Syrian refugees and displaced persons. In a war-torn Arab world, a collective response is much needed. No Arab country, save the oil-producing Gulf States, can tackle on its own the ravages of the pandemic. Millions of people are out of jobs and hence a decent income to enable each of them to secure the basic minimums for survival, let alone paying bills and rent. Maybe part of the $5 trillion promised by the G-20 will be earmarked to Arab governments that badly need a strong injection of liquidity to avoid a complete shutdown of their economies. However, this is still to be determined. Moreover, the World Bank decided to provide $160 billion to help the world economy to recover, and the International Monetary Fund has said the most fragile states in the developing world will need assistance among which figure some Arab countries that have suffered tremendously from the ravages of armed conflict, on the one hand, and the failure of revolutions on the other. The pandemic descended on the Arab world when it was least prepared to deal with such an existential threat. And despite the call by the UN secretary general to respect a ceasefire in the Arab countries that are still in the throes of military conflict, the call has not been heeded, regardless of expressions of good will in this regard. On Friday, 28 March, Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar of the Libyan National Army threatened to bomb the headquarters of the Libyan Government of National Accord in Tripoli in case violations of the UN-mandated ceasefire are not stopped. The cases of Lebanon and Syria are not dissimilar from Libya. Although Lebanon has not been the scene of armed conflict, its economy was in shambles, and accordingly lacking in financial resources to deal with the pandemic. No Arab or foreign assistance has been promised thus far to the Lebanese government, though there have been press reports that the government is holding talks with the IMF to discuss the modalities of a future assistance agreement. The special representative of the UN secretary general to Syria called for a ceasefire in Syria in order to dedicate all resources, financial and otherwise, to halt the spread of coronavirus. In the case of Syria, the situation could get out of hand if the warring parties don t heed the ceasefire call. The threat in this eventuality will not be limited only to Syria but felt throughout the Levant and Iraq. The situation in Yemen is not much different. Although fighting has abated, relatively speaking, there are no coordinated efforts to face the pandemic. The Arab world is at a crossroads. Not only has it to strive to put an end to conflicts raging within it, but also to deal collectively with the pandemic now, before it gets worse. Strangely enough, no Arab country has called for an emergency Arab summit, through videoconference, to discuss ways and means of enabling Arab governments to work together to contain the pandemic before it spirals out of control. The other question, which is no less important, is a path forward once coronavirus is no longer a public health threat. One proposal in this regard will be for Saudi Arabia, as the present G-20 chair, to formulate, in agreement with other member countries in the group, a financial package for the Arab world out of the $5 trillion that the G-20 decided to set aside to ensure the recovery of the world economy. Similarly, Arab powers, including Egypt, should initiate talks with both the World Bank and the IMF to come up with a special financial assistance plan for the Arab world, with special attention to war-torn Arab countries. These moves would ensure Arab economies don t crash land under the combined weight of two deadly scourges: wars and the pandemic. Add to that the dramatic fall in oil prices which will hamper the ability of oil-rich Gulf countries — if still we can call them that — to provide direct financial assistance to their Arab “brethren”. The situation is not doomed provided there is political leadership to deal with the challenges immediately and forcefully. I would imagine a joint initiative by Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE could save the day. There are no alternatives. The status quo could be highly destabilising for decades to come.
If it had not been for the coronavirus that has threatened the lives of millions of people, we certainly would never have seen several unexpected political interactions. These movements, though dictated by the urgency and the seriousness of the virus threat, signal a retreat to the safe haven of human behaviour as opposed to political manoeuvres. Who would ever have expected a long peaceful chat of cooperation between the American and the Chinese presidents, who expected Iran to extend a helping hand to Americans in their fight against the virus, or who expected medical kits to be dropped by Saudi jets over Houthi territories? Is there a light at the end of this dark COVID 19 tunnel… should we expect that? It all depends on learning the lesson of the coronavirus. President Donald Trump, who months ago launched a trade war against China, felt the need to deal with the Chinese, who managed to overcome the dilemma of COVID 19. Trump discussed means of cooperation between the two sides to fight the virus. Surprisingly, his Chinese counterpart was also willing to help by sending medical supplies to the US, saying that we are all just waves in the same sea. Moreover, Trump had put an end to the war ignited between Russia and Saudi Arabia over oil prices which threatened the international economic balance. Within weeks of this war, oil prices fell to $20 per barrel, adding greatly to the economic burden not only of Riyadh and Moscow but to that of other oil exporting countries in dire need for economic stabilisation like Venezuela, Nigeria and Algeria to be able to fight the virus. Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad had also received a call from Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed of the United Arab Emirates, who said that Damascus will not fight the virus all by itself, thereby mending wounds of several years of enmity that shattered the Arab ranks. Meantime, Saudi jets made several trips over the Houthi territories in Yemen, dropping medical kits to help people protect themselves against the threat of COVID 19. And despite the ongoing harsh sanctions imposed by the United States against Iran, Iranian officials extended a helping hand to Americans through the Swiss embassy in Tehran, offering to send a huge number of PCRs to the United States, which in return said it is willing to unfreeze some of the Iranian funds in its banks. These behaviours are human reactions to the virus spread all over the world. People are not only threatened by a death sentence, but even those who survive the fight against COVID 19 will face a new world with giant economic challenges. Rich and poor countries alike will have to face a serious downward trend in economic activities, huge debts, and the heavy burden of the social and medical consequences left behind by the virus. Countries all over the world are fighting on two fronts: COVID 19 and its consequent economic downturn. The virus has left no place for arms races or investing in conflicts around the globe to assume supremacy, or for a cold or hot war over oil prices. COVID 19, if nothing else, has managed to bring governments back to their senses and to realise that conflicts, be they big or small, should be settled peacefully. The Arab world should have also learned this lesson the hard way. They should have learned that the military fronts are not exactly the right place to solve their problems. Weakening the Arab League was not to anyone s benefit. They should have sensed the need for a means to resolve the inter-Arab conflicts by Arab states only, especially those who were not involved in such bloody confrontations like Egypt, which has been calling for peaceful settlements. Now, we have a great opportunity because everyone will be counting their losses and will be busy with making ends meet. The United States will be occupied by the economic aftershocks of the virus and China will be busy pursuing its upward development, and thus we should find our way to the end of this tunnel. Arabs should learn that the world after COVID 19 will have a variety of options, they should find the right connection to keep them away from international polarisation. Arabs should learn how to keep their environment and resources safe for the coming generations. People all over the globe will certainly be working hard to peacefully settle their differences and Arabs should not be an exception. Arabs have the means and history of great civilisations that put them in a better place and to even become the fifth conglomerate on the international arena.
During a White House briefing on March 20, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, respectfully pushed back against President Donald Trump s claim that an anti-malaria drug would successfully treat coronavirus patients. The evidence was only anecdotal at that point, Fauci cautioned. Yet, just this week, the FDA provided "emergency use approval" to prescribe the drug to coronavirus patients. On a different front, Trump said last week that he wanted the nation "opened up and just raring to go by Easter," but later backed off, in part, after Fauci called this an "aspirational projection" and presented him with the likely estimates of fatalities. As these exchanges unfolded in front of the press, it became clear that the President and the nation s foremost public health expert were battling, however politely, over who the American people should trust. While the scales may be tipping in Fauci s favor at the moment, the battle is far from won. The Covid-19 epidemic is a critical moment for the nation s public health experts. It is their credibility, no less than the political leaders , that is now on the line. And after years of declining levels of trust in experts, their handling of this crisis will either mark a restoration of the public s trust in experts -- or be the nail in their coffins. The Trump administration is known for its distrust of many experts. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, the administration has sidelined independent experts advice and often created a hostile working environment for government scientists whose research conflicted with its agenda. Defenders of the administration argue that the science in question -- for example, that on climate change and the regulations designed to slow its pace -- is inconclusive and that they are merely encouraging an intellectually honest approach. Yet it is hard to find many mainstream scientists who agree with that argument. None of this is particularly surprising. Populists like Trump often detest experts. They call them "elitists" and "globalists" -- and imply that experts cannot be trusted. The irony of this moment -- with a world under siege by a lethal virus -- is that the legitimacy of populist politicians now depends on the professionalism and competence of the very experts they have denounced. Yet skepticism about experts predates the Trump administration. One survey, documented in an Administrative Law Review paper, found that trust in the US Food and Drug Administration declined from 80% in the 1970s to 36% in 2006. And the assessments of experts regarding climate change, environmental pollution or vaccines have been fiercely contested for years. In other words, there is a systemic crisis of mistrust in experts. While it has multiple causes, it can be traced principally to interaction between two factors. First, experts are called upon to provide advice on contested matters that advantage some groups, while disadvantaging others. For example, when the FDA fast-tracks approval of one drug, it can enrich a pharmaceutical company and its investors -- as well as benefit a specific group of patients. At the same time, rejection can bankrupt another company and deny the hopes of other patients. In such a scenario, those who find themselves on the "losing" side may grow distrustful of the decision makers. Second, unlike the exploratory nature of basic scientific research, government experts are tasked with formulating binding rules like "acceptable levels" of a pollutant. These are based on estimates that may reflect the state of the scientific art at one point in time -- but can quickly become obsolete. Initially, for example, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention discouraged Americans from wearing masks to combat the pandemic, and yet the CDC is now set to be reconsidering that initial recommendation. In public perception, the combination of these two factors is potentially explosive. It can appear as if rules that allocate winners and losers were formulated on the basis of arbitrary cut-offs, or worse, are formulated to favor one group over another. But a crisis does not have to mean the "death" of expertise. Whatever problems beset expertise, the alternatives are worse. A key issue now is who gets tested for Covid-19. Because tests are still scarce in some places, these decisions are made by infectious diseases experts. They take calls from clinicians, decide in each case whether to prioritize testing and revise guidelines as more kits become available. This is exactly how we would want such decisions to be made. An epidemic requires careful stewardship of scarce resources (such as ventilators and N95 masks) on the basis of expert assessments of relative risk. Yet for patients waiting in a long line only to be told that they cannot be tested, the decision can appear arbitrary. Most importantly, even when experts make decisions based on the best available evidence, inescapably they will sometimes be wrong, and when they do so, they will further undermine trust. Another case in point: the FDA s restrictive guidelines that in the early days of the epidemic allowed labs to conduct tests only for patients who met specific criteria, such as having recently traveled to Wuhan. In retrospect, it appears the guidelines may have caused many people carrying the virus and complaining about symptoms to go untested, and thereby masked the degree of community spread already taking place. But before we jump to denounce this as another case of rigid bureaucracy, we should realize that while the restrictions in this case may have been too strict, we need to have a set of guidelines to assist health care workers in their decision-making during an epidemic. If, in the early days of the virus, we did not have any guidelines, doctors may have given out tests to too many people who were suffering from allergies, the flu or other potentially less severe illnesses. And we could have found ourselves with no tests at all -- and an even harder time tracking an epidemic. US public health experts are therefore entering this moment handicapped by the systemic crisis of mistrust in expertise. And, in the absence of trust, critics are ready to pounce at the slightest impression of political bias, either for the administration or against it. On the other hand, the epidemic may work in the experts favor, because in a moment of emergency we are predisposed to look to them for reassurance. And a skilled communicator like Fauci should be able to use this opportunity. His performance up till now has reminded people that, despite the misgivings evoked by the administration s clumsy messaging, there are deep wells of professionalism, integrity and competence from which to draw among American public health experts. Reliance on them is our best bet, even if they make some mistakes
The Covid-19 pandemic is already in its third disruptive wave in the United States. First came a few cases on the West Coast, culminating in the tragic nursing-home outbreak in Washington state. Next, the ongoing health care calamity in New York City, where the shortage of diagnostic tests, protective equipment and ventilators has helped make the crisis almost unthinkably worse. Then last week, other large American cities, including Detroit, New Orleans, Chicago and Atlanta, saw the giant wave crash over them. The endless stream of new, very sick patients. The lack of tests, masks, gowns and ventilators. The hope that the outbreak might be just an urban phenomenon seemed plausible for a brief moment. Indeed, last Monday plans for an Easter "re-opening for business" were floated, until reality dashed the plan on March 29. That reality is the fourth wave of the US epidemic. It is now clear that the epidemic has found a foothold not just in coastal cities, but also in mid-sized cities and towns across the country. Albany, a town in the western part of Georgia, near nothing in particular, was the first to gain attention as the epidemic appeared, possibly spread by people at a funeral. To date, 462 people have been diagnosed in Dougherty County, where Albany is situated, and 18 have died. The outbreak there revealed a likely problem for the next wave of affected areas. Unlike the large cities -- Seattle and New York City among them -- Albany has just one hospital network. It has strained to meet the challenge and marshaled forces from the region. Yet other cities and towns now feeling the early surge of cases may lack specialists, intensive care beds, a cadre of well-trained nurses and a full-time municipal government capable of coordinating a community-wide response. Shreveport, Louisiana, also is battling an outbreak, as is Bossier City across the Red River. Shreveport has a branch of LSU medical school in the city of about 200,000 and thus far has been able to handle the crisis, though as cases mount, it too will be stretched. Across the Mississippi River sits Jackson, Mississippi, a city of about 170,000 and the state capital. Though its governor waited until March 31 to issue a shelter-in-place order, Mississippi is in or near the top quarter of states in cases of diagnosed Covid-19 per capita. Indeed, the three counties that Jackson straddles (Hinds, Madison, and Rankin) have diagnosed 172 cases and dozens of new cases are now diagnosed there daily. Rural areas in states with previously modest infection rates have begun to see cases in unusual settings. In Arkansas, rural Cleburne County -- just 26,000 people in a few small towns -- has seen 61 people diagnosed, many possibly as the result of a church outing. A 25-bed hospital in the county seat of Heber Springs (population about 7,000) has no critical care beds (according to the hospital s website) although it is part of Baptist Health, a large network of hospitals throughout the South. Pawnee County, with a population of about 17,000 has a single accredited hospital with 14 beds, Cleveland Area Hospital, designated a critical access hospital. The area is also served by Pawnee Indian Health Center, which does not provide in-patient care, as well as a private, unaccredited hospital. The appearance of so many cases in so many towns points to the next crisis for health care delivery. Hospitals in rural areas generally provide basic emergency and medical-surgical care, then refer more complex patients or those needing higher-tech care to a large city, often one with a medical school. If the large city finds itself overmatched by a certain problem, it will in turn arrange transfer to a regional super-specialty medical center. This system is held together by ambulances, helicopters, airplanes, goodwill -- and the assumption that there will always be capacity at the next level hospital. The Covid-19 pandemic has changed that. A hospital like Cleveland Area Hospital might soon reach out to a medical center in Oklahoma City or Tulsa to transfer a Covid-19 patient in need of ICU care. But the ICUs in those large medical centers will likely soon be full of patients with Covid-19 -- and their outreach to super-specialty institutions in Houston or Dallas will in short order produce the same problem of ICU gridlock. This may mean that medical personnel at small community hospitals with nowhere else to turn will be left managing critically ill patients using equipment they are not familiar with, all the while worrying that they might catch the infection from the patient. As has been said, the pandemic is revealing the many strengths and weaknesses of the US health care system. It is a tragedy that major cities are overwhelmed -- treating too many patients with too little equipment and protection. Yet the disruption of the well-established chain of care that goes from community hospital to local major medical center, then to regional super-specialty care may result in the largest tragedy of all.
I am sitting at my desk in a furious rage. Recently I read an article in ProPublica in which pharmacists described "unusual and fraudulent" prescribing activity for the drug hydroxychloroquine, suggesting that doctors may be hoarding it in a "just in case" manner. Not long after that, another article popped up in my Facebook feed, describing a 45-year-old woman with lupus who said she was denied a refill on her hydroxychloroquine at Kaiser because all supplies had been diverted for the "critically ill with Covid-19" who might fill their system. As for her? According to Buzzfeed, the woman was told she could manage for 40 days without the drug and thanked her for her "sacrifice" and "understanding." The Lupus Foundation of America has written to Congress and is fighting on our behalf to ensure the drug supply remains strong, but as it is with every bit of this situation, I know that it s going to take all of us together to find the solution. Together we must not get lost in the panic. We must not forget that everyone is affected by every choice that s made. And we absolutely must understand that hoarding and withholding hydroxychloroquine will do more harm than good if we re not careful. Plaquenil, or the generic version hydroxychloroquine, is an anti-malarial that acts as a disease-modifying drug for those with lupus, like me, and other rheumatic diseases. People who don t have these diseases want access to hydroxychloroquine because the US Food and Drug Administration has issued emergency use authorization for chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine to treat patients hospitalized with Covid-19 -- and even though there is little scientific evidence that either drug is effective in treating the disease, people are frightened and want to believe it will help. Promising trials are under way, but there is no absolute yet. What is absolute is what will happen to me without the drug. I can tell you, as another woman with lupus, skipping a dose or two of the drug has had serious consequences to my health. I could not make it without for 40 days. I am scared, too. Scared for myself and the estimated 1.5 million Americans (according to the Lupus Foundation) who also suffer from lupus. Decades ago, before lupus patients had access to this drug, many of them died young. Life expectancy was low. The novel coronavirus isn t like the flu, it s far deadlier; the same is true with lupus. It s easy to forget about those of us who live with this often-invisible illness because our faces aren t out there. Stories of our disease don t haunt the public on a daily basis as is the case currently with Covid-19, but truthfully there are crucial similarities between people like me and the patients with this new diagnosis. When the symptoms worsen, they will fear death. When they have to adjust to a new normal, they will go through all the stages of grief. When I read stories of people who have gone through a Covid-19 diagnosis, I latch on to phrases like, "wearing the same pajama bottoms for days because it is too hard to change out of them, too hard to stay that long on his feet," because phrases like that distinctly describe exactly what it s like when my lupus flares. I have skipped meals with my fiancé because the thought of having to chew my food was too exhausting. I have cried in the shower because I don t have the strength to wash my hair. I have missed deadlines and nearly lost jobs because I cannot focus. Without hydroxychloroquine I would certainly slip back into the far worse state that I was in before I was diagnosed with lupus. It was a state that not only had me fatigued but also riddled with pain. My joints ached. My bones hurt so deeply that I wanted to crawl out of my own skin. My lungs were inflamed, struck with pleurisy that made breathing painful. I became out of breath walking from one room to the next. Changing clothes and talking on the phone left me breathless. I lost my ability to exercise. A walk around the block, if I even had enough strength to complete it, felt like running a marathon. If I spent any time in the sun, I broke out in strange rashes, the fatigue worsened and the bone pain tightened its grip. This was the decline that happened over three months before I was officially diagnosed, before I was on hydroxychloroquine. Now, imagine if I am denied a refill of the drug and I slip back into that state. Imagine I also contract Covid-19. What then? Am I hospitalized alone, gasping for my last breaths? I know that we have all played the scenario in our heads about what would and could happen if we got the virus. We understand the best-and-worst-case scenarios. Now imagine if you were contemplating best-and-worst case with Covid plus another disease. With lupus I m already at a 50% higher risk for heart attack than the general public. Over my lifetime, there s a 60% chance that my lupus will affect my kidneys which could in turn require chemotherapy, or worse, a transplant. I am fighting for my life daily. Yet, I am one of the lucky ones. I am currently doing quite well. The days of pain and extreme fatigue are spread out amongst the months instead of daily. I can work out again. I have taken on more work. I am managing and feel fairly strong. But do you know why I m doing well? Because I have been taking my hydroxychloroquine for a little over two years now. If that goes away, then so does my health. Right now, I am one of the lucky ones whose last routine rheumatologist appointment happened to be before all of this chaos. My prescription is filled, but it will run out and when it does, what will happen then? I can tell you that the fallout from lupus patients without their lifesaving meds will place a bigger burden on our already burdened healthcare system. I can tell you what it will feel like inside my body, and I can tell you that the good from hoarding the drug will not overcome the bad from what occurs when the drug is not available to those who need it most.
At his Sunday coronavirus briefing at the White House, President Trump sounded like he had just been mugged by reality. There were no more Trumpian fantasies about reopening the country so that church pews could be filled with people on Easter Sunday on April 12. Instead, Trump talked soberly about the 2.2 million Americans that could have died if the US government had done nothing to stop the spread of the virus. Trump seemed to be citing an influential study by Imperial College London that projected up to 2.2 million Americans would die if no efforts were made to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. During Sunday s briefing, Dr. Deborah Birx, who is coordinating the US government response to the crisis, mentioned another recent study by Christopher Murray of the University of Washington. Murray s study projects that the number of deaths in the United States will peak three days after Easter Sunday on April 15 with more than 2,200 deaths on that day and also that the total number of deaths in the United States will be more than 82,000 by August 4. It is the work of scientists and the advice of experts that seems to have brought a welcome change in Trump s thinking when he announced at the Sunday briefing that all the social distancing guidelines that his administration had instituted were now being extended until the end of April. At the briefing Trump commended Birx and Dr. Anthony Fauci for their handling of the crisis response. Earlier Sunday, Fauci had emphasized these sobering facts, telling CNN s Jake Tapper that computer models suggested that deaths from the coronavirus in the United States could range from 100,000 to 200,000. Of course, Trump can rarely resist dipping into his usual bag of tricks and during Sunday s briefing he berated reporters from CNN and PBS for asking questions that he didn t like. Trump also made some bizarre comments about a New York hospital that he said had started using a vastly larger number of masks, saying, "How do you go from 10 to 20 [thousand masks per week] to 300,000?...Something is going on, and you ought to look into it as reporters. Are they going out the back door?" It s pretty clear that demand for masks is skyrocketing in New York, not because they are being pilfered but because medical staff need a lot of them given the scale of the emergency. Yet, overall Sunday s briefing at the White House was more along the lines of the briefings by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo that treat Americans as adults who can be leveled with about the scope and nature of nature of the coronavirus threat. The crisis communications 101 rule is that you just tell folks the facts as best you know them. On Sunday Trump began to do that.
COVID-19 has disrupted both supply and demand around the world. Egypt is not immune to the recessionary trends caused by the sudden halt in supply chains and the sharp decline in demand, domestically and globally, resulting from the rapid spread of the virus. The drop in economic activity is even more evident in a country that has adopted fiscal consolidation measures and increased public spending on major infrastructure projects that are underway. These policies worked while the economy was strong, but it is time to consider new strategies to promote the private sector as the government faces some tough decisions ahead. The Egyptian government adopted an ambitious reform program starting in 2016, which included a currency devaluation, liberalization of certain sectors, and a phased lifting of state subsidies. The implementation of these reforms was coupled with a high inflation rate, and as a result disposable income has been shrinking and consumer demand in the domestic market has weakened. Signs of improvement in early 2020 Despite a drop on the demand side, however, the Egyptian economy was showing significant signs of improvement at the start of this year. Egypt had a GNP growth rate of 5.6 percent in FY 2018/2019, unemployment stabilized at around 8 percent, while inflation was down to single digits and seemed to be under control. According to the Central Bank of Egypt (CBE), the annual consumer price inflation rate declined from 7.2 percent in January 2020 to 5.3 percent in February. The Egyptian pound (EGP) steadily gained strength against the American dollar in 2019 and was deemed one of the year’s top performing currencies. In addition, remittances from Egyptian expats working overseas reached $26.6 billion in 2019. This made Egypt the 5th largest recipient country in the world, according to the World Bank, and remittances are an important revenue stream for many Egyptians. Last year also witnessed the revival of the tourism industry, a critical pillar of the economy. It is a source of significant employment and foreign currency, with revenues reaching $12.4 billion in fiscal year 2018/2019. This represents a rise from $3.93 billion in Q1 of FY2018/2019 to $4.19 billion in Q1 of FY 2019/2020. But there are serious challenges on the horizon While it is too early to gauge the total economic impact that COVID-19 will have on the global economy as well as on individual economies, there are certain areas in which Egypt is likely to face serious challenges. The disruption of supply chains will negatively affect industries that depend on inputs from China and other foreign markets, thereby affecting production levels for the domestic market as well as for exports. The decline in international trade as a result of the disruption of supply chains will also have adverse effects on revenues from the Suez Canal, which reached $5.8 billion in 2019. The oil-rich Gulf countries are struggling with the economic impact of COVID-19 given the decline in demand for oil, especially from China, as well as the recent and sharp fall in prices stemming from the Russia-Saudi Arabia dispute, with Brent trading for under $30/barrel as of late March. This will result in a tightening of economic policies in the Gulf states and may require wage cuts and layoffs among expatriate workers, which in turn will affect the remittances of Egyptian expats, who account for a high percentage of the workforce in the Gulf. The tourism industry is unlikely to see a revival until next season in light of ongoing travel restrictions and the lingering psychological impact of health risks associated with international travel. The demand crunch both globally and domestically will spill over into recessionary trends that will affect domestic investments and employment. In addition, in light of the global uncertainty around the current situation and the expanding role that governments will play in safeguarding their economies, countries such as Egypt might find it even more difficult to access the finance needed to support their economies and carry out their stimulus plans. Global financial institutions like the International Monetary Fund may not be able to handle the huge demands that are likely to arise as a result of this crisis given the sheer number of countries affected. The need for government action In anticipation of these challenges, the Egyptian government has been quick to introduce stimulus measures. The CBE announced on March 16 that it was cutting borrowing rates by 3 percentage points to stimulate industries and boost demand, while increasing credit limits for businesses to support working capital and payment of salaries. At the same time, with fear of dollarization and to ease expected pressures on the currency, public banks are offering new certificates of deposit at a rate of 15 percent for one year, which is only available online without any need for personal interaction. Furthermore, the CBE has instructed all banks and lenders to provide a six-month grace period on all loans as an emergency tool to ease the burden on the population and the private sector. The government also announced the following measures: the allocation of EGP 100 billion (around $6.25 billion) to combat the virus; a reduction in the price of natural gas and electricity for industries; the immediate release of export subsidy arrears; and the provision of support for the tourism and real estate industries through banking finance initiatives. As the world changes in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Egypt has an opportunity to address some of the structural reforms in the economy by boosting the confidence of the domestic private sector, as well as moving at a faster pace to promote technological transformation, particularly in the financial and health care industries. Based on what we are seeing globally, Egypt is likely to face some serious public health and economic challenges in the days ahead. It is important to act quickly and creatively to anticipate and mitigate them. *The Writer is a non-resident scholar at MEI and CEO of EN Investment. He previously served as CEO of the Chemical Industries Holding Company and as Egypt’s Principal Deputy Minister of Planning, Monitoring and Administrative Reform and Principal Deputy Minister of Investment. The views expressed in this article are his own. **This article was originally published by the Middle East Institute in Washington DC. https://www.mei.edu/publications/what-does-covid-19-mean-egypts-economy
Egypt s President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi has set into motion a package of important initiatives and measures to steer the fight against the unprecedented coronavirus pandemic that could ravage the domestic and global economy. He urged citizens to follow the advise of public health authorities and to avoid going out as much as possible in order to help curtail the spread of Covid-19. “The world will be a different place afterwards,” he said. “The economic impact will be extremely profound, even in countries that manage to contain this disease.” Alluding to the political exploitation of the crisis, he stressed that the official figures reflect the current situation in Egypt and added that from the word go certain parties were determined to cast aspersions on every action Egypt took. “The very least that can be said about these aspersions is that they are lies containing a lot of slander and have nothing to do with coronavirus.” The global socioeconomic fallout from this crisis could last months. Economists predict unprecedented rates of unemployment, especially among irregular workers, severe recession in most industrial and commercial sectors and sharply declining economic growth rates. The urgent social and economic measures taken by countries around the world share a number of features. They offer support to the most vulnerable sectors of society, increase government expenditures on social services, cut taxes, pump money into the hands of consumers, furnish emergency bailouts to hard hit sectors such as airlines and tourist companies, and increase funding for hospitals and the healthcare industry in general. The sheer magnitude of the crisis is forcing governments to shoulder more responsibility for the economy, in sharp contrast to the liberal economic strictures that prevailed during the globalisation era of the past few decades. Interventions in order to channel money and energies into medical research, manufacturing medical supplies, increasing hospital capacities and building new hospitals and other facilities are essential government tasks today. So, too, are government interventions to prevent the collapse of important economic sectors. Even in the early stages of the contagion, it was estimated that coronavirus could cost the global economy more than $1 trillion of global GDP if it turned into a pandemic. Oxford University warned that the spread of the virus outside Asia could trigger a 1.3 per cent drop in global income in 2020, or about $1.1 trillion. An indication of how hard the pandemic might strike the world economy comes from the US where Congress has approved a $2 trillion emergency aid plan in order to contain the economic repercussions of the spread of coronavirus in the US alone. The sum equals 10 per cent of annual US GDP. Financial and investment circles have welcomed the Egyptian government and Egyptian Central Bank s urgent steps to stimulate the economy and offset the damages of coronavirus. They lauded, in particular, the measures to reduce the price of natural gas for industry, to cut electricity prices, to extend the deadline for paying real estate tax and to help out floundering industries. All such measures are crucial for local industry and investors. Still, both domestically and internationally it looks like we have to brace ourselves for worse to come before humankind can beat Covid-19 into retreat. The dramatic coronavirus-related developments in Europe are very alarming and it is impossible to tell when scientists will find a cure. What this means is that a sense of collective responsibility between world governments and peoples is more crucial than ever before. Humanity must unite in the face of the most serious threat in modern times.
Coronavirus has the world on edge. Stocks are tumbling. People are sheltering in place. Conferences, schools, weddings, even religious services, are being put on hold. And Americans are watching with bated breath to see if policymakers can come together to provide urgent relief. If the Covid-19 crisis sounds bad to you, imagine what it might feel like to human beings behind bars. A public health catastrophe is rapidly spreading through our prisons and jails. The Federal Bureau of Prisons, America s largest prison system with 175,000 people incarcerated across 122 facilities, reported its first few cases last week. New York City s notorious Rikers Island jail has confirmed dozens of cases. Some 1,800 people in California s San Quentin State Prison were put under quarantine. Correctional officers in Alabama, California, Georgia, Michigan and New York have tested positive. And it is only a matter of time before the situation gets worse. Unfortunately, there is little that incarcerated people can do to protect themselves. In jails and prisons, access to basic goods like toilet paper, personal hygiene products and cleaning supplies are often limited or exorbitantly expensive. The alcohol-based hand sanitizer that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends for use is banned and considered contraband, although some prisons in New York are using the labor of incarcerated people to produce it. Even handwashing can be difficult in facilities with questionable water supplies. In short, prisons are often dirty and unsanitary already. On top of that, there is no such thing as social distancing when you are locked up with hundreds of other people in close quarters. That means today there are roughly 2.3 million people locked up in our prisons and jails, waiting in fear for this crisis to hit them. One of us knows what this fear looks like. Louis served almost 14 years in prison. While incarcerated, he unapologetically gave his life to Jesus, gained an education that transformed his mind, and realized that -- to quote criminal justice reform advocate Glenn Martin -- the people who are "closest to the problems are usually closest to the solutions, but furthest from the power and resources." Now, Reed is the national organizer of Dream Corps #cut50, a bipartisan effort to safely and smartly cut the number of people behind bars and give people coming home chances to rebuild their lives and contribute to their communities. Together, we believe three critical steps must be taken. First, there are already solutions on the table. The REFORM Alliance has published a SAFER Plan policy recommendation, especially for those in at-risk communities, asking governors to suspend technical violations, probation visits, fines and fees for the time being -- especially since those locked up are more susceptible to being exposed to Covid-19. Second, we need to remember that the incarcerated are in prison, not on another planet. Their health matters to our health. Guards leave at night, lawyers visit clients and family members visit loved ones. People come and go. What s more, someone on parole who is sent back to prison for technical violations -- or anyone arrested and detained in the coming weeks -- could bring the virus into an already overcrowded confined space. The only way to stop the spread of coronavirus to the incarcerated population is to reduce the size of the prison population. That means jails should not be holding anybody in pretrial detention. It also means both prisons and jails should be safely releasing as many people from within their confines as possible. A smart place to start would be individuals most at risk of infection: those already suffering from serious underlying medical conditions and people over the age of 65. Most states already have mechanisms to release elderly and sick people, and research shows that people over the age of 65 are far less likely to commit future crimes. There are also hundreds of thousands of people incarcerated for low-level crimes who could safely be released from prison with no threat to public safety. Some regions are already stepping up. Counties from Cuyahoga, Ohio, to Alameda County, California, are releasing hundreds of people from their jails, most of whom were already scheduled to be freed within the next 30-60 days. The state of New Jersey recently issued an order allowing the release of close to 1,000 people, mostly those serving time for low-level offenses like probation violations or municipal court violations. More should follow suit, as quickly as possible. Third, we need to go beyond fear and ask that this crisis continue to bring out the best in people. Yes, at a time when people are afraid for themselves and their loved ones, we need to ask them to have empathy for the incarcerated, too. In fact, it could help all of us. Out of sight, those in prisons and jails are not just out of mind. This abandonment is made possible by a massive empathy gap -- our inability to see ourselves in those who are incarcerated. Wednesday, March 25, is the National Day of Empathy, organized by Dream Corps #cut50. It is a day when people who have suffered under our mass incarceration system will share their stories with policymakers and local leaders. Celebrities and artists will echo the call to greater empathy. And countless people will discover that in the midst of a viral pandemic, we can still care and worry about people worse off than we are. This is the fourth annual Day of Empathy, but it takes on new and special significance this year. In years past, the profound arguments of formerly incarcerated individuals sparked enough empathy to produce bipartisan criminal justice reform. Empathy for the incarcerated drew together a bipartisan coalition of people from across the political spectrum to support the First Step Act. This historic criminal justice reform, signed into law in 2018, has already led to a reduction in incarceration time for more than 7,000 people in just over a year. The equivalent of 17,000 years of human freedom have been restored back to communities and loved ones. Now that Americans are looking to our government for bipartisan concerted action against Covid-19, the First Step Act is a model for what is possible. People from both political parties can come together, despite their disagreements and driven by their own distinct values, to respond to suffering. We need to remember the "do onto others" Golden Rule -- and put our empathy in action. Human lives should not be defined by the worst mistake they have ever made, as they are for many incarcerated people. We can enact safe, smart solutions -- such as putting low-risk individuals back home in their communities -- but only if we resist the fear that led to mass incarceration in the past.
We humans were meant to be social animals. We thrived on connection, community and kinship. When we met up with other humans, it wasn t enough to simply be there with them; we felt an urge to instantly bond with them. And so we kissed, we hugged, we shook hands, we high-fived. That was how things were until early 2020. Then came the age of coronavirus and the need for social distancing, self-isolation, quarantine, lockdown and shelter-in-place. Today, we humans continue to be social animals, and we continue to crave connection. We need to find a way to build an instant bond but we have to do it without physical contact. Research shows that a single handshake can transfer 124 million bacteria on average, so it is quite likely a perfect way to share viruses as well. A high-five will transfer about half of that number. Some of us have dusted the elbow bump off the shelf. This is what the World Health Organization told us to use in the 2006 age of avian flu. But let s face it, elbow contact just doesn t have the same sizzle as, say, a handshake or a hug. You just have to see this picture of two grimacing presidential candidates to feel convinced about that. And Director-general of the World Health Organization Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus recently said it wasn t a good idea, tweeting "When greeting people, best to avoid elbow bumps because they put you within 1 meter of the other person." So some elder statesmen around the world are using the bonding method that they ve learned during their state visits to India: Namaste. Namaste around the world In case you haven t taken a yoga class, namaste is when you bring your hands together, palms pressed against each other, centered at your chest. Namaste is part of several yoga postures, but it is also the traditional way in which the people of India greet each other. And, since it involves no physical contact, it is virus-proof. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had traveled to India in 2018. So when coronavirus struck, he was one of the first to adopt namaste as his greeting of choice. He has also encouraged his country to abandon handshakes and adopt namaste -- and is giving free tutorials. France s President Emmanuel Macron also recently decided to employ namaste in welcoming Spain s King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia. The French ambassador to India, Emmanuel Lenain, later tweeted, "President Macron has decided to greet all his counterparts with a namaste, a graceful gesture that he has retained from his India visit in 2018." In US President Donald Trump s recent state visit to India, his host, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, may not have been able to sell him on a new trade deal, but he did sell him on namaste. Soon after his return, Trump folded his hands to greet Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar. "I just got back from India. And I did not shake any hands there, and it was very easy because they go like this and Japan goes like this," Trump said, demonstrating the Indian namaste and the Japanese bow. "They are ahead of the curve." After a number of visits to India, England s Prince Charles too has now adopted namaste as his preferred style of greeting, although, as this video shows, old habits are hard to break. It s high time namaste went global, for it has been around in India forever. Namaste may arguably be the oldest form of greeting in active use on our planet. Earthen figures excavated by archeologists from the Indus Valley Civilization, dating back to 3,000 BC, show people in the namaste pose. In contrast, the handshake only originated, like, yesterday -- around the 9th century BC. You can use it during your video conference Because namaste involves no contact, it is also the perfect form of remote greeting. So tomorrow when you run what may be your 31st virtual meeting in this age of coronavirus, think about it. You can t shake your colleagues hands or give them a hug as they enter the Zoom video conference room, but you can invite them all to build a bond with each other through a namaste. That s what we are doing now in our team meetings at Mentora Institute. Besides its no-contact benefits, there are other alluring possibilities in adopting namaste as your preferred greeting. A few years ago, as I was wrapping up a keynote to an audience of 600 executives, I felt a strong tug in my heart for the audience. They had listened to me for an hour, laughed and sighed at my stories, and, through their nods and note-taking, given a gracious reception to my ideas. I dearly wanted to hug each one of them at the end of my talk as they were applauding. In 15 seconds, I was going to walk off stage and out of their lives forever, and I wanted to convey to each of them "I am grateful for the beautiful connection you and I made today." How on Earth could I create this bond with 600 individuals before I rode away into the sunset? Then, instinctively, my hands folded and the palms pressed against each other, my thumbs close to my heart. Namaste. I realized that I was doing what I would do growing up in India every time I walked into a room buzzing with friends and family. Stand still. Bow ever so slightly. Smile. Sweep the room with one namaste while looking affectionately into everyone s eyes. Namaste has this powerful quality of being inclusive. With namaste, you are building an instant bond with all who are gathered in your midst -- not simply the one person right in front of you. It is physically impossible to achieve that with a kiss, a hug, a handshake, a high-five or an elbow bump, all of which are exclusively one-to-one. Namaste helps us to recognize that, like it or not, we are all connected; we rise and fall together. While we may choose to hug or bump elbows with just our favorites, when we offer a namaste, we are opening our heart to everyone, without discrimination. All of humanity is in our embrace. What does namaste even mean? And that is not all. To understand namaste s ultimate potential as a social bonding tool, we need to ask, "What does this strange-sounding word even mean?" Within the word Namaste is encoded the whole philosophy of yoga. Here s what I mean. If I were to draw for you a line to represent the full spectrum of human nature, going from "terrible" to "terrific," where would you place yourself on this line? Where would you place your favorite colleague? And your least favorite colleague? Wherever you placed yourself, and wherever you placed these two colleagues, I offer that you are wrong. Because, you see, you are the whole spectrum, and so are they. Think of your worst quality, your worst behavior, your worst life moment. Now think of your best quality, your best behavior, your best life moment. Yoga invites you to find that divine spark within yourself -- the part of you that I call your "inner core". When you operate from your inner core, you are centered, committed, connected and curious. You are able to step away from attachment, ego and insecurity to operate with wisdom and intention. You are at your full potential. The more you discover this divine spark within your own self, the more you start seeing it all around you, in every throbbing heart, for it is innate in humanity. We all have it -- we just need to work on awakening it and expressing it in all we do. Namaste is a Sanskrit word that means "the divine spark in me bows to the divine spark in you." In other words, it is saying, on some days, you or I may be tired, ill-behaved or deeply flawed; but today, in this moment, as we connect, I seek to offer you the best in me, and I strive to draw out the best in you. It is now abundantly clear that we will win the war with coronavirus only if we re all in this together. Rich have to unite with the poor, young with the old, conservatives with liberals, each nation with all others. We need to inspire not just the best in ourselves, but the best in others -- including the people who, on a more average day, we may dismiss, dislike or denounce. What better way to pursue this goal than to start and close every interaction by pressing palm against palm to gently affirm the untapped heroic potential that lies within everyone you engage with? Because, as Gandhi once said, "The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would suffice to solve most of the world s problems." Namaste.
How will the world look after coronavirus? Will we wake up one day to hear the government announcing the end of the crisis, and then everything returns to what it was before this March: crowds in markets, malls and commercial centers, shisha bars and cafes, social separation caused by social media, and pollution of the planet and indifference to the future? Or will the crisis leave its mark on our lives and make us change our lifestyle? Coronavirus came to give the planet a break from human practices…and allow our planet to breathe. The virus came to give families an opportunity to communicate and sit together, after a long talk about the interruption of close and direct communication in light of the internet. With the virus also came a culture that some preached would be our future: remote work and the rediscovery of the internet as a way to work (from home). The crisis has shown us that many jobs can be performed from home without the need for offices. The virus also reaffirmed the importance of personal hygiene as a means of preventing disease. Certainly the world will change after coronavirus. We live in an atmosphere of war, but this time the war is of a different kind, a war in which the whole world participates, and the whole world will suffer its effects, especially at the economic level. But we may make gains on the social level, if we take advantage of the new customs that coronavirus has imposed on the people. I wrote in my last article about the crisis of trust between the government and its citizen, and between the media and Egyptians. I thank God that the government has made great efforts over the past two weeks that have been hailed by everyone. It was the beginning to rebuilding bridges of trust between citizens and the government. The government has taken well-studied steps, in coordination with international bodies, and most importantly, it has adopted the principle of transparency and access to information. Of course, this did not prevent rumors about the coronavirus from emerging, especially in light of the spread of social networking sites that allow everyone who owns a smartphone connected to the internet to disseminate his “supernatural” theories to explain incidents. This is a global scourge that is not limited to Egypt, but at least the information provided by the government was an effective means to confront this sweeping flow of misinformation and conspiracy theories about the virus. The government has fulfilled its duty so far and is still taking steps, but now, it is Egyptian citizens turn, especially after they turned out to not be fully aware of the situation. Citizens calls to provide health care, suspending study, and banning shisha were only showy demands on social media. Just one look at popular markets and shopping malls makes you sure that the real crisis is about awareness and culture. I hope that the media will seize the opportunity, and play its role professionally in dealing with the crisis, in an attempt to recover the lost audience. This opportunity will not come again. I think that the post-coronavirus world will change our perception of the government, media, and the citizen, and it may be the beginning of a new “social contract”.
President Donald Trump has recently insisted on repeatedly calling the Covid-19 either a "foreign virus" or a "Chinese virus" in his speeches and tweets, an insistence that appears to say "this is all China s fault." Fox News personality Jesse Watters asked China for a formal apology earlier this month during "The Five," a Fox News panel talk show he co-hosts. According to Watters, the virus originated from Chinese people eating raw bats and snakes because "the Chinese communist government cannot feed the people, and they are desperate." Watters also said scientists believe this to be the origin of the virus, despite no credible disease expert having made any statement of the sort. Scientists do believe the virus likely originated in an animal before transmission to a human host, but the exact sequence of events or even the animal in question remains unknown. Watters has not responded to the global backlash against his comments, though he did say recently on his show, as infections in the US continue to spiral, that he has started to take social distancing more seriously. In a seemingly retaliatory move, a Chinese government spokesman took to Twitter to suggest an unfounded claim that it may have been the "US army [that] brought the epidemic to Wuhan" instead. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman, Zhao Lijian, republished a one-minute clip of Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at a US congressional hearing on the virus. In the clip, Redfield can be heard admitting to cases of deaths in the US from the coronavirus that were previously misattributed to influenza. Despite this having nothing to do with the US army and their visit to Wuhan for the Military World Games in October 2019, Zhao is seemingly using the evidence of misdiagnosis and a lack of transparency as ammunition to fire back at the US. As the whole world now scrambles to deal with an escalating threat that just a month ago seemed to be a "Chinese problem," it is time to acknowledge that blame is hardly the point and most definitely not the solution. In fact, the deep-seated Sinophobia, or anti-Chinese bias, underlying the initial urge to judge China for the problem is what has allowed Covid-19 to catch the US off guard with its widely criticized response to the pandemic. As China has grown economically and politically to a position of global influence since the late 1990s, it has received backlash and criticism, particularly from its neighbors in Asia Pacific and in Western Europe and the United States. Many questions that have been raised regarding human rights violations are valid, but some, including Watters comments that intend to paint China as an underdeveloped, backwards country, are more self-serving than anything else. By vilifying China, critics like Watters perpetuate a narrative of Western supremacy. This narrative is so pervasive that despite reports that China is now home to more of the world s wealthiest people than the US, some people still believe that everyone in China lives in extreme poverty. The misconception of what it means to be Chinese or live in China has cultivated a widespread negative sentiment towards the Chinese people, leading to a rise in hate crimes against people of Chinese or Asian descent. Such negative sentiment informs not only how we treat Chinese or Asians in general whom we encounter but also how quickly we are to accept any criticism of the Chinese government or Chinese officials without much substantiation. Without dwelling too much on substantiating what should be a well-known fact, it is easy to point to universities like Tsinghua, the wide adoption of mobile payment and apps, and the massive footprint of luxury brands in China to debunk all the aforementioned depictions of the Asian country and its people. While Wuhan, the city where the first case of the virus was diagnosed, is not a first-tier city (China puts cities in tiers based on their population), it has been regarded as "the political, economic, financial, cultural, educational, and transportation centre of central China" by foreigners. The virus was thus not born in a setting of extreme poverty and filth but rather somewhere much more like home. Hence, Covid-19 is now trending worldwide. Trump s choice of words is intended to "other" the virus, a strategy that he has used in the past to characterize other threats to America and the American way of life. The President claims that his choice of words is "not racist at all." With so many cases in the US, Trump s central focus on the origin of the virus cannot be more irrelevant now. Similarly, many foreigners, even some of the expats I work with in Hong Kong who have visited China, cling to the misconception that Chinese people must be the source of the spread of the virus anywhere. For instance, in Italy, which is now on lockdown as it struggles to contain, at the time of writing, nearly 55,000 cases of the coronavirus, the Tuscan city of Prato is home to the highest concentration of Chinese migrants in the country. On more than one occasion, people I have engaged in casual conversations with about the coronavirus have tried to point to the town as the source of the virus in Italy. However, by early March, two weeks into Italy s initial lockdown of the original "red zones" -- so named for their high level of infections -- there were no reported cases of the coronavirus in Prato, the city or the larger province of which it is the capital. In Hong Kong, there have been widespread calls for Chief Executive Carrie Lam to shut all border crossings with China since January. Lam has refused. Proponents of a full shutdown point to Macau, China s other SAR or special administrative region, which has been very successful at combating the virus. Many of these people, as a faculty member of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Professor Yun-wing Sung, explains in a Chinese submission to the Hong Kong Economic Journal, assume that Macau was able to quickly contain the spread of the virus because it imposed much stricter travel restrictions than Hong Kong on travel to and from mainland China from the onset of the virus breakout. However, as the workplace of some 35,000 foreign workers from the Chinese city of Zhuhai, Macau has maintained an open border to the mainland and its residents. It should be clear that many of those who blame China at this late stage for the spread of Covid-19 are likely seeking to shift blame from their own inadequate responses. Regardless of where the virus originated, cases have been reported on every continent except for Antarctica. Due to its incubation period, which may be as long as 14 days, everyone we see, including healthy-looking, non-Chinese people, could be a carrier. The current situation demands better access to testing for everyone and more affordable provision of health care and medical resources if a case is confirmed. Drive-through testing stations like the ones we first saw in South Korea in February, work-from-home policies rolled out by the Hong Kong government for civil servants in late January, and even China s building of emergency coronavirus hospitals in a matter of days early in the outbreak are examples of governments adapting efficiently to the crisis. As the global fight against an unprecedented virus drags on, we should be open-minded and accept that good disease-combating measures can come from anywhere, including China. It truly would be a shame if more people had to die because of some age-old prejudice.
Americans are responding to the growing coronavirus pandemic by stocking up on essentials like toilet paper, eggs, milk -- and deadly guns and ammunition. But all of that firepower is likely to do more harm than good, as Americans continue to grapple with the anxiety and uncertainty ahead. Across the country, firearm shops are reporting a boom in sales, as customers line up to buy ammunition, handguns, shotguns, rifles -- and even the deadliest of assault weapons. "When I say sales have been booming, it s an understatement," David Stone, who works at Dong s Guns, Ammo and Reloading in Tulsa, Oklahoma, told the Los Angeles Times. Indeed, as one New York Times story phrased it, the FBI has processed "more background checks in February than it had done in all but two other months." Online websites like Ammo.com are also reporting a 68% increase in sales over the last month. But doomsday preppers and gun enthusiasts aren t the only ones buying the nation s gun and ammo inventory. Anecdotal reports from gun shop owners suggest that first-time purchasers are also getting in on the action. For example, Gabriel Vaughn, the owner of Sportsman s Arms in Petaluma, California, posted a video on Instagram, on March 14, noting a "huge influx in new, first-time buyers" and pleading with his regular clientele to be mindful of busy store staff during this period. "I can barely lift my head up to say hello to people," Vaughn said. Similarly, Cole Gaughran of Wade s Eastside Guns in Bellevue, Washington, reported an increase in first-time gun owners -- particularly among the Asian-American community. "The main thing I m hearing is that they don t want to get jumped because of their race," he told The Trace. The reported influx of new customers and uptick in background checks must be a welcome turnaround for an industry that has experienced sluggish sales over the last several years -- and its boosters are actively exploiting the coronavirus outbreak to help grow profits further. Last Friday, the National Rifle Association sent out an inflammatory "national alert" to its millions of members warning that "anti-gun extremists" in Champaign, Illinois, are using the emergency "to quietly pass and implement gun control schemes." Later that day, the city, which had issued an emergency declaration related to the coronavirus, issued a statement to respond to "false claims" about its order, pointing out that "there is currently no firearm ban and no intent to seize property or close businesses." A lawyer for the city said that using these powers would require city council approval. And independent gun sellers on ArmsList.com have begun selling a variety of guns with sales pitches like "Corona Virus preparedness kit," "Coronavirus panic killer!," "Coronavirus Zombie Protection." The gun and ammunition rush could lead to a spike in firearm suicides and domestic violence incidents, however. As Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva explained during a press conference on Monday, "buying guns is a bad idea." "You have a lot of people now who are at home, normally they re not, cabin fever sets in and you have a crowded environment," he said. "Weapons are not a good mix." Indeed, research has consistently found that firearms in the home significantly increase instances of suicide homicide -- and unintentional shootings. The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health has concluded that "every study that has examined the issue to date has found that within the U.S., access to firearms is associated with increased suicide risk," with one analysis showing that "suicides were almost twice as high in the high-gun states, even though non-firearm suicides were about equal." Other researchers found that residents in states with higher rates of gun ownership are more likely to be shot and killed by a family member or an intimate partner, with women facing the greatest risk. Each 10% increase in household gun ownership rates corresponded with a 13% increase in domestic firearm homicides, researchers at the University of Indianapolis reported in 2017. States with more guns also see more unintentional deaths. The mortality rate is seven times higher "in the four states with the most guns compared to the four states with the fewest guns," the Harvard researchers tell us. And, so, if the best way to stop the coronavirus pandemic is to listen to the guidance of health professionals and scientists, then Americans must also tune out the grifters who are using this crisis to sell more firearms and embrace the overwhelming and conclusive science around the dangers of gun ownership. If you re looking to protect your family, continue to buy food and basic essentials as needed, not guns and ammunition -- and then stay home.
The international community is facing an unprecedented challenge with the Covid-19 crisis — perhaps the first global crisis in the age of new social media. The challenge has turned international agendas and priorities upside down. Headlines are no longer dominated by war, conflict and terrorism. Governments foremost concern these days is to control the spread of the virus and prevent infections at home as international stock markets tumble, trade slows and the global economy veers towards recession. The impact of all this on growth rates and the standards of living of the poor and middle classes may be felt for years to come. Some economies can sustain the stiff measures needed to curb the spread of the virus. Other economies will be able to handle them for only so long after which hardship will set in. A third type of economy will be hit so hard from day one that it will require intervention on the part of international agencies such as the World Bank. Coronavirus will probably have a major impact on salient features of globalisation such as open borders and unprecedented freedom of movement. What with the levels of precautions taken by some countries at the epicentres, it is hard to imagine the world returning to business as usual, as was the case following other viral crises, such as SARS and MERS. Governments will be reviewing many policies related to travel and border controls, even if the international fight to combat Covid-19 proves quicker than some predict. On the other hand, some argue that while Coronavirus is a global crisis, it would be wrong to see it as a crisis of globalisation and they warn against reactions that hamper a rational and collective international response. In Egypt, the measures announced by the prime minister and other competent officials were timely and in line with measures taken by other countries. School and university classes have been suspended for two weeks. Football matches, concerts and other such activities have been cancelled. All government facilities are being sanitised. People have been urged to stay home as much as possible and avoid malls, clubs and other areas where they might come into contact with large numbers of people. In addition, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi announced last Saturday that the government would allocate LE 100 billion to fund a comprehensive containment and prevention plan. Noting that President Al-Sisi s decision to suspend classes was a necessary precaution to prevent contact between large numbers of people, Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouli said that the rate of infection in Egypt is still limited compared to other countries. Social media was instrumental in prompting swift action on the part of the government. Parents and guardians initiated a hashtag campaign calling on schools to suspend classes, a campaign that acquired momentum after the World Health Organisation announced that 300 million students were out of school worldwide due to temporary closures of educational institutions as part of precautionary measures undertaken in many countries. The Covid-19 pandemic is not just a test of how prepared societies are domestically to handle a dangerous illness, but also of the world s ability to work together as a single system to combat threats that no country can handle alone. This is both a lesson and an important opportunity. Hopefully, the world will learn how to unite effectively on this as well as other critical threats, such as global warming and, of course, armed conflict, which claims many more times the amount of victims as viruses.
2019 and 2020 had already been difficult years, crisis and adrenaline wise, in our household. During the summer, when I was a visiting poet at a residency out of state, an angry, confused woman wandered into my class and said: "I have three guns and I want to use em." We all froze. It wasn t totally clear if she had the guns, and in this world, at this moment, it didn t have to be. We each know that, when we teach in America, we are already in danger. I was dizzy with fear. My husband and kids were a few rooms away. The woman, who later turned out to be a schizophrenic without access to her medications, was, by some force, wrestled out and escorted away, then put in a hospital for observation, in a step that was actually safer for everyone than any one of us pressing charges. My class went on; we talked about poems. I d teach for two days and leave again. But despite the fact that the rest of our days on campus passed peacefully in the shadow of some incredibly beautiful mountains, I was rattled. I couldn t shake the sense that, in this country, at this moment, we always live at incredible risk. A few months later, crisis struck again. While my husband was locking his bike to drop off our 3-year-old daughter for her preschool-aged day camp, a different woman approached. Swiftly and for no apparent reason, she bent down, picked up our daughter, and began to carry her down the street. It was so fast and confusing that my daughter barely whimpered. My husband, in a burst of speed, chased the woman and reclaimed our daughter. The woman, clearly confused, retreated into the public library. A network of homeless people who generally know the other homeless in the area (what a gift their wisdom was that day) said they did not recognize the woman. The woman was so clearly unwell that when she was apprehended she was incoherent. Heartbreakingly, she called our daughter by the name of someone else s child. Each part of the episode was as haunting as it was terrifying. All of this was before Covid-19, which is now rapidly on the rise where we live in the Bay Area -- and the country -- through community transmission, and where, now starting tomorrow the six counties on the Bay Area will be proceeding under a shelter in place order. All of this was before the schools shut down and we all began to fear for ourselves and our parents and sick friends and elders -- and none of us could get a test for a disease we all soon might unwittingly be either catching or spreading. That is to say, even before Covid-19, we were all already living in the presence of vast public health epidemics: gun violence, poverty, homelessness. We were living through the epidemic of lack of decent access to health care, the epidemic of precarity and inequality, the epidemic of lack of access to mental health care. In the Bay Area, where an estimated 28,000 people each night already sleep on the streets, we were already living with an epidemic of lack of access to affordable housing. We were living this way year in and year out before the coronavirus threatened everyone who works in the gig or service economy with their jobs. In New York, where they didn t want to shut down the public schools because so many kids are homeless (schools are where large numbers of our kids must eat and do their laundry), we were already living with the public health crises of mass shelterlessness and child hunger. And all across America, we were already living with the radical unsafety of having a government that deliberately chooses to linger in ignorance by refusing to let the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention even study the causes of gun violence. What s different, of course, is the speed, visibility and sheer novel danger of this epidemic. Viruses clearly don t care whether we are rich or poor, white or black, gun owners or radical pacifists. As we watch this virus spread, it maps our interconnections. It reminds us that as humans we were never so very separate from one another -- we must meet and share services and trade goods and explore ideas and share food and yes, connect with one another to build a world. We share common breath. "No man is an island," John Donne wrote, and of course no woman, no child or nation is either. This virus (and the chaos it causes) reminds us of our common lives, our common breath, our deep dependence on interconnectedness: it shows that to thrive we must meet and build and plan and educate and heal and celebrate and make art and grow food and trade goods and eat together, because we are complex social artistic imaginative beings in a web, all attempting to share breath and resources on a planet. The virus reminds us that there is really no elsewhere, no place to retreat, no gated community whose walls will serve: We are all linked, and our health is a community function -- the well-being of others is also the well-being of ourselves. After a deeply bungled delay, the Democrats and Republicans in the House of Representatives came together on Friday to acknowledge what is happening to our economy and our health at once, and to pass a relief bill. We are told that, in theory at least, the late-arriving Band-Aids of widespread testing and paid sick leave are on the way -- though roadblocks have come up in the Senate that could delay final passage of the bill. The fact that the infection numbers continue to rise dramatically even in the face of deliberate ignorance and delay and ongoing lack of testing is also not reassuring. The fact that we are six weeks into a crisis that could have been actively prevented starting in late January, should give us all pause. Indeed each of us is afraid of being exposed to coronavirus, but the virus is exposing our wider fault lines as well. One reason that some Americans have been so slow to act is partly because we ve relied too long on systems that allow us to be complacent about sequestering ourselves from other people; because we ve tolerated a mediocre, partial, inefficient and expensive healthcare system. We ve veered towards an economics that allows some people to stockpile and privatize their access to good services, while others are increasingly left in the cold, or just plain out of luck. We have been living in an America still clinging to some notion of rugged individualism to its peril. As this virus escalates here, it does so partly because of the fault lines that were already endemic in this country. We stumbled because ignorant and racist forces allowed themselves to stall, believing they didn t need to respond or plan care for all by imagining that they could "other" the virus or the people that had it. We stumbled because we already fail to offer quick, affordable, efficient health care to all. We stumbled because key leaders have chosen widespread chaos and ignorance over knowledge that could be gained through quick, free, convenient widespread testing. We will continue to stumble and exacerbate our common risk where our lack of safety net puts people without insurance, or homes, or steady work in even greater danger. Last week, during a trip that was probably one of my last jaunts into public space for some time, I stood in an abandoned hotel lobby with the last remaining soul there -- a restaurant owner linked to the hotel who had just laid off 45 people, wage laborers who now have no job. He was stricken. "I don t have any back up way to pay them," he said, hoping that the government would find some way to help. Perhaps his wishes will come true, and perhaps this current bill will bandage up some of the encroaching damage. It may be that we can yet stem the worst of the carnage, and limp through. But the deeper problem is that were already tolerating the extent to which we live in fear in America, the extent to which we have let ourselves imagine and build privatized solutions, the extent to which we have been building those solutions at the edge of a great brink. I m incredibly privileged that, for now, my partner and I can weather this crisis working from home, homeschooling my kids, that for now we and our kids can sequester. For now, where we live, all public and work and school events are canceled, perhaps for the next 8 weeks, and we basically leave home only to run in large open spaces or to get vegetables. For the time being, we re here, in our bunker -- and believe me, I know we are lucky. But when we get a chance at public life again, I hope so much that all of us take the messages of this pandemic to heart: We are not healthy or safe when those around us are not healthy or safe. We can most thrive when others in our common public diverse world can also thrive. The health and well-being of others is vital to our own. And we are all linked. There really are no islands. There really are no gates.
The upheaval caused by the coronavirus – COVID 19 -- is all around us. And I know many are anxious, worried and confused. That s absolutely natural. We are facing a health threat unlike any other in our lifetimes. Meanwhile, the virus is spreading … the danger is growing … and our health systems, economies and day-to-day lives are being severely tested. The most vulnerable are the most affected -- particularly our elderly and those with pre-existing medical conditions … those without access to reliable health care … and those in poverty or living on the edge. The social and economic fallout from the combination of the pandemic and slowing economies will affect most of us for some months. But the spread of the virus will peak. Our economies will recover. Until then, we must act together to slow the spread of the virus and look after each other. This is a time for prudence, not panic. Science, not stigma. Facts, not fear. Even though the situation has been classified as a pandemic, it is one we can control. We can slow down transmissions, prevent infections and save lives. But that will take unprecedented personal, national and international action. We must declare war on this virus. That means countries have a responsibility to gear up, step up and scale up. By implementing effective containment strategies. By activating and enhancing emergency response systems. By dramatically increasing testing capacity and care for patients. By readying hospitals, ensuring they have the space, supplies and needed personnel. And by developing life-saving medical interventions. And all of us have a responsibility, too. To follow medical advice and take simple, practical steps recommended by health authorities. In addition to being a public health crisis, the virus is infecting the global economy. Financial markets have been hard hit by the uncertainty. Global supply chains have been disrupted. Investment and consumer demand have plunged -- with a real and rising risk of a global recession. United Nations economists estimate that the virus could cost the global economy at least $1 trillion this year – and perhaps more. No country can do it alone. More than ever, governments must cooperate to revitalize economies … expand public investment … boost trade … and ensure targeted support for the people and communities most affected by the disease or more vulnerable to the negative economic impacts – including women who often shoulder a disproportionate burden of care work. Dear Friends, A pandemic drives home the essential interconnectedness of our human family. Preventing the further spread of COVID-19 is a shared responsibility for us all. The United Nations – including the World Health Organization -- is fully mobilized. As part of our human family, we are working 24/7 with governments, providing international guidance, helping the world take on this threat. We stand in full solidarity with you. We are in this together – and we will get through this, together. Thank you.
Across the nation, Americans are feeling anxious about the rapid spread of COVID-19, known as the coronavirus, and the threat it poses to our health, our loved ones, and our livelihoods. In response, Americans are stepping up -- doctors, nurses, and first responders are putting themselves on the line to care for those who are sick; schools, businesses, and organizations are cancelling classes and events; and individuals are making personal sacrifices, including self-quarantining, to slow the spread of the virus. We must all follow the guidance of health professionals and take the necessary steps to protect our communities and our nation. Nancy Pelosi just negotiated a deal with the administration to provide critical relief for our country during this pandemic. It will ensure that coronavirus testing is free for everyone, including the uninsured, and provide paid sick leave and food assistance for families that are hurting. These are critical steps to help those most impacted by the virus, and our nation is better off because of her leadership. Unfortunately, this virus has laid bare the severe shortcomings of the current administration. Public fears are being compounded by a pervasive lack of trust in this President, fueled by his adversarial relationship with the truth. Our government s ability to respond effectively has been undermined by the hollowing-out of our agencies and the disparagement of science. Our ability to drive a global response is dramatically undercut by the damage President Donald Trump has done to our credibility and our relationships around the world. And just yesterday, Trump flatly refused to take responsibility for the failure of testing to date. When asked a legitimate public health question, he said, "Yeah, no, I don t take responsibility at all." It is the job of the President to take responsibility -- and his response is unacceptable. We have to get to work immediately to dig ourselves out of this hole. That is why on Thursday of last week I released my plan to combat and overcome the coronavirus. It lays out immediate steps we must take to deliver a decisive public health response to curb the spread of this disease and provide treatment to those in need; and a decisive economic response that would deliver real relief to American workers, families, and small businesses — and protects the economy as a whole. The steps in the House bill are important, but we will certainly need to do more. The core principle is simple: public health professionals must be the ones making our public health decisions and communicating with the American people. First, anyone who needs to be tested based on medical guidelines should be tested — at no charge. The White House should measure and report each day how many tests were ordered, how many tests have been completed, and how many have tested positive. By next week, the number of tests should be in the millions, not the thousands. We should make sure every person in a nursing home, a senior center, or a vulnerable population has easy access to a test. Second, we need to surge our capability to both prevent and treat the coronavirus, and prepare our hospitals to deal with an influx of those needing care. Communities must have the hospital beds, the staff, the medical supplies, and the personal protective equipment necessary to treat patients. A week from now, a month from now, we could need an instant, 500-bed hospital to isolate and treat patients in any city in the country. President Trump should ensure FEMA is working with local authorities so that we are ready to do that. The Department of Defense should prepare for the potential deployment of its resources to provide medical facility capacity and logistical support. Third, we need to accelerate the development of treatments and a vaccine. In 2016, the Obama-Biden Administration passed the Cures Act to accelerate work at the National Institutes of Health, but now it must have every available resource to speed the process along. President Trump should fast-track clinical trials within the NIH, while closely coordinating with the Food and Drug Administration on trial approvals, so that the science is not hindered by the bureaucracy. He should also immediately restore the White House National Security Council Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense -- with a full-time, dedicated coordinator to oversee the response. The Obama-Biden Administration created that office to better respond to future global health threats after the Ebola crisis in 2014. It was designed for exactly this scenario. President Trump s administration eliminated the office two years ago. We must also face the second half of the challenge -- the economic pain the coronavirus will cause in our country. We must do whatever it takes and spend whatever it takes to deliver relief for our families and ensure the stability of our economy. This crisis will hit everyone, but it will hit folks who live paycheck-to-paycheck the hardest, including working people and seniors. Another tax cut to Google or Goldman Sachs or millionaires won t get the job done. We need to place our focus on those who will struggle just to get by: children who rely on school lunches, parents who are struggling with childcare costs, workers in the gig economy who lack unemployment insurance, people who have difficulty paying their rent or mortgage because they ve been laid off or had their hours cut, and small businesses that will be devastated as customers stay home and events are canceled. We need to give them relief. And it is a national disgrace that millions of our fellow citizens do not have a single day of paid sick leave. We will never fully solve this problem if we are unwilling to look beyond our own borders and engage fully with the world. A disease that starts any place on the planet can be on a plane to any city on earth a few hours later. We should be leading a coordinated, global response, just as we did for Ebola, assisting vulnerable nations in detecting and treating coronavirus wherever it is spreading. By cutting our investments in global health, this Administration has left us woefully ill-prepared for the exact crisis we now face. No President can promise to prevent future outbreaks. But I can promise you that when I m President, we will prepare better, respond better, and recover better. We will lead with science, listen to experts, and heed their advice. We will rebuild American leadership and rally the world to meet global threats. And I will always, always tell the truth. That is the responsibility of a President. Now, and in the difficult days that still lie ahead, I know that this country will summon our spirit of empathy, decency, and unity. Because, in times of crisis, Americans stand as one. I know we will meet this challenge — together.
One never ceases to be amazed at the pro-government media in Turkey. One minute they re cursing the Kremlin and calling Vladimir Putin a killer. The next minute the Russian bear is the cat s meow. But then they are only keeping in lockstep with a presidential palace that gives the wink to unlicensed mass demonstrations in front of Russian diplomatic missions and simultaneously restricts access to news sites and social media relaying news of the deaths of dozens of Turkish soldiers in Idlib that sparked the demonstrations two weeks ago. Then, the next day, after the summit in Moscow last Thursday, the occupant of that presidential palace is smiling at his Russian interlocutor and handing him a gold embossed invitation to a meeting of the Turco-Russian Cooperation Council in İstanbul to mark the centennial of their countries bilateral relations. As for the outcome of that summit, so much for the ultimatum Erdogan has reiterated for a month, ordering Syrian government forces to withdraw to the lines behind the Turkish observation posts in Idlib or else. The three-point “Additional Protocol to the Memorandum on Stabilisation of the Situation in the Idlib De-Escalation Area” that he signed with Putin on 5 March essentially recognises the new status quo on the ground. In addition to a halt to all military actions “along the line of contact” in the de-escalation zone, the agreement calls for the creation of a security corridor six kilometres deep to the south and six kilometres deep to the north of the M4 highway. On 15 March, the Russians and Turks will commence a joint patrol of that highway. Presumably, in the crucial interval before then, the two sides will be working to restrain the forces they back. It also gives time for one side — Damascus — to consolidate its new positions in the new territory it holds, which includes areas south of the M4, which had been part of the original de-escalation zone, not to mention the strategic M-5 highway that government forces captured recently. The agreement, worked out after six hours of talks, is not just a setback for Erdogan s Syrian ambitions. It looks like a form of punishment for Ankara s failure to fulfil its obligations in accordance with the Astana and Sochi agreements. “Turkey did not fulfil its commitments under the Astana Agreement,” said Professor Joshua Landis, director of the Centre of Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, as cited in Ahval, 23 February. Landis said that under the agreement, Turkey was supposed to ensure the withdrawal of Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS) and their heavy weaponry from the planned demilitarised zone. Not only did Turkey fail to do this, but the group “continued to fire on Aleppo neighbourhoods and Syrian troops from the zone.” Thus, “far from containing HTS, Turkey even failed to prevent the group from expanding,” concludes Paul Iddon in Ahval. Citing another Middle East analyst, Kyle Orton, Iddon s article concludes that “the present situation was inevitable since the Assad regime and his Russian and Iranian backers are adamant about reconquering all of Syria and Turkey s ability to direct events on the ground is limited.” Erdogan tried and failed to play both ends against the middle, thinking that fuelling a reversion to the Cold War would better serve his ambitions. However, the West, which is growing weary of his games, went no further than pro forma declarations of support. NATO armed itself with Article 5 of its charter concerning aggression against a fellow NATO member, which is clearly not applicable in the case of Turkey s activities in Syria. In like manner, the UN pointed to Article 6 of its charter which, again, is not in Turkey s favour, given that the Turkish soldiers who were killed in Idlib sacrificed their lives in a military campaign that violated the sovereignty of another UN member state. Erdogan even turned to the US, only to receive the curt response that, as US Defense Secretary Mark Esper put it, US forces have no intention to return to the Syrian-Turkish borders. Frustrated at the corner into which he painted himself, Erdogan played the defiance card. The S-400 missile systems he purchased from Russia would go into operation in April as scheduled, he said. “The system belongs to us now that we ve taken delivery of it.” If the bravado is good for keeping supporters happy and diverting attention away from failures, even many in his own camp suspect he ll postpone that step at the last minute because of the spectre of sanctions that are hanging over his country s head. In all events, the opposition in Turkey is not so easily distracted. They continue to ask awkward questions such as what are the Turkish army s plans in Syria after more than 59 Turkish soldiers were killed there in less than a month? What steps is the army taking to bring HTS and other jihadist and terrorist groups under control in its areas of responsibility in Syria? Is Erdogan still pursuing the dream of overthrowing Al-Assad? The refugee question is another area where Erdogan s calculations may have backfired. Refugees have long served his demagogic purposes, as was the case when he lashed out against European “hypocrisy” on this question. On his way back from Moscow, he told his pool of reporters on board his presidential plane that the EU had given 700 million Euros to Greece to handle the refugee crisis at its borders and nothing to Turkey to deal with the same crisis. He also claimed that German Chancellor Angela Merkel had promised 25 million Euro for refugees, but that Turkey hasn t seen that money yet. The next day, Erdogan softened his tone and the Turkish coast guard in the northwest province of Edirne announced that it had received instructions to prevent migrants from crossing by sea to Greek islands in the Aegean. Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis pointed to this as further proof that Turkish authorities had orchestrated the refugee crisis on their border. Accusing Erdogan of breaching the 2016 agreement with the EU on migration, Mitsotakis said Turkey “has systematically encouraged and assisted tens of thousands of refugees and migrants to illegally enter Greece. It has failed, and will continue to fail, should it continue to pursue this strategy.” Greece, with its many islands, is an easier target for Erdogan than Bulgaria which shares a 259-kilometre long border with Turkey. Bulgarian Defence Minister Krasimir Karakachanov said that Turkey had not let migrants move towards the Bulgarian border because his government had taken the necessary precautions to protect them years ago, thereby nullifying potential migrant pressures on the border. On Sunday, 8 March, Erdogan said that his government had not received the support it expected from the international community with regard to refugees, but that he hoped to reach a different result during his visit to Brussels the following day, at the invitation of EU Council President Charles Michel, whom Erdogan met in Ankara 4 March. However, European Commissioner for Budget and Administration Johannes Hahn has set out conditions in advance. He cautioned that the aid the EU gives Turkey to take care of refugees could be significantly less than under the previous agreement and that this aid would only be provided if “Ankara s blackmailing policy of sending refugees towards the EU is stopped”. Erdogan has previously called for changes to the refugee agreement. Green Party leader Annalena Baerbock, who called the current refugee agreement between the EU and Turkey a failure, would like to see a new agreement too. “Instead of this failed deal, we need a new agreement guaranteed by the rule of law, which learns from the mistakes of the past, ensures that people are well cared for and that the 27 EU states do not fall like dominoes when Erdogan blows once,” she told a German newspaper. If the EU follows her advise, Erdogan will feel significant blowback from his refugee gambits as well.
When the World Health Organization warned on Monday that the threat of a pandemic related to coronavirus has become very real, this means that we are facing a phenomenon that does not concern us alone. What is required now is to act with transparency in related to the reported cases in Egypt, but we should also avoid adapting what the government says to become simply a reaction to outside campaigns. There must be a clear conversation about the coronavirus outbreak — about Egypt s ability to prevent it and how (Egypt s capabilities) can be supported and developed — in addition to an accurate publication of the number of cases confirmed, the number of those who carry the disease (but are asymptomatic), and the number of those who have recovered. Perhaps one of the reasons for the high number of people infected with the virus in Italy is the expansion of authorities efforts to detect cases of the virus unlike the rest of Europe, where most countries have focused more on methods of prevention and treatment. This means that the figures of those who carry the virus are not the only serious threat. Certainly, Egypt needs to remain transparent about its ability to prevent the spread of the outbreak, and ask for help and support if there are shortcomings. In fact, there are incidents that require real effort to not be repeated. Photos went viral in many newspapers around the world, and were used by some Arab satellite channels, of thousands of Egyptians crowding (in front of the Central Public Health Laboratories in Downtown Cairo) to undergo a medical test to prove that they are not infected with the virus as a condition to travel to some Gulf countries. This should have been avoided. It is assumed that the Health Ministry would expect a relatively large number of people to go for the test, and the ministry should have provided more than one place to receive them so that these (types of) photos do not go viral. Some of us simply condemned the crowds without any effort to correct the actions of the government. As for the issue of the impact of the virus on tourism — it is a certain matter. This is a crisis that has hit the tourism sector across the globe and has nothing to do with Facebook posts. News on the infection of some tourists who visited Egypt recently, especially those from France and Germany, does not represent efforts to target Egypt. These reports are an acknowledgment of a reality that will unfortunately impact the tourism sector, and we have to deal with it. Again, Egypt should tighten preventative measures, (which would include) medical examinations for all those coming to Egypt. The virus does not discriminate. The first step is to study how to prevent the (spread of) the virus and to engage with the issue of the outbreak, not to remain preoccupied with responding to satellite channels that exaggerate in their reports or other forces acting in bad faith. The best way to battle rumors about the virus is for the government to do its homework on preventative measures, treatment and quarantine, and that any decision to close schools or take other steps come from a scientific evaluation of the risks associated with the spread of the virus in Egypt, not a reaction to rumors or false news and propaganda.
Egypt s leadership has chosen the negotiating path with Ethiopia to resolve the issue of filling the Renaissance Dam, based on its conviction that ensuring both parties interests is the best way to establish long-lasting, strong and cooperative ties. The win-win diplomatic approach has always been adopted by Cairo, especially when dealing with its neighbours, but under the condition that the interests of all parties are well-served. This diplomatic approach has been consistent with the endless ups and downs of Ethiopian policy and Egypt has extended its hands with good intentions to avoid any misunderstanding between the two countries that could negatively affect their ties. However, the Ethiopian side has not been able to understand the flexible stance taken by Egypt where the filling of the dam is concerned, because, after a long marathon of negotiations sponsored by the United States and the participation of the World Bank and Sudan s representatives, the Ethiopian delegation did not show up to sign a deal that was initially reached by all parties including the Ethiopians. Diplomacy can hardly explain such a situation, the only explanation could be seen within the context of the competition between Ethiopia s political parties for the parliamentary elections. The heated bidding among the electoral parties has turned the issue of the dam into a political auction where the Ethiopians have been mobilised to a war zone rather than a diplomatic stance that preserves the country s relations with its neighbours. Such a stance is clearly stated by Ethiopian Minister of Foreign Affairs Gedu Andargachew, who said, “The land is ours, the water is ours and the dam is ours.” Mr Andargachew seemed to be taking part in a political demonstration and his statement is clearly far beyond the diplomatic norms not to mention international law. His words are cheap political propaganda that should never be stated by a responsible statesman. He chose to ignore the rules of the international law and the traditions of history and geography, not to mention the importance of the Nile to Egypt. Historically, Ethiopia has relied on rainwater, whereas Egypt, as a downstream country, is heavily dependent on the River Nile and thus has well-established legal rights that should be observed for its people to survive. If Mr Andargachew has not yet realised these facts, then he should be told that his statements have had a negative impact on the negotiating environment. Egypt s patience should not be misinterpreted by the Ethiopian minister or anyone else. However, Egypt s insistence to reach a solution that takes into consideration the interests of the Ethiopian people has not been weakened simply because we do not believe that strong people should easily respond to such a political circus. Egypt knows for a fact that it will get its full rights and will never give up a single term of its historical and legal privileges. Taking care of Ethiopian interests will never come at the cost of Egypt s rights to the Nile. The fact that the Egyptian leadership is patient, hard to provoke and works to promote sustainable development in Africa does not mean that it is willing to back down to unreliable statements. This country has always sided with its African neighbors in issues of independence and development. Cairo has been working hard to help most African nations turn into giant economic powers. The current leadership has exerted great efforts to develop a network that connects the northern tip of the continent in Cairo down to its far southern part in South Africa, this in addition to the coastal road, the railway network and the electric connections. The current leadership has made it its priority to promote trade among African nations, in addition to several giant infrastructure projects that have been underway at several African states to enhance the technical, administrative and production capabilities. Ethiopia should have been part of such relentless efforts to build up a comprehensive African renaissance instead of limiting itself to the narrow scope of going all the way by itself to achieve progress while leaving behind the others. A big country like Ethiopia should not make the issue of filling its dam part of the election bidding, thus mobilising its people against Egypt. Cairo has never stood against the development of Ethiopia, not to mention the production of electricity from the Blue Nile. This stance has always been reiterated by Egypt and its diplomatic positions over the past few years, despite the fact that this country has the right to go as far up to the UN Security Council and the international courts to block the construction of the dam. But, Egypt believes that a friendly solution that serves everyone s interests will last longer and will always benefit all parties involved. Yet, if the Ethiopian leadership would go as far as ignoring the deal reached by the Sudanese, the Egyptians and its own delegate and sponsored by the US, then Cairo has the right to protect its interests as it could never ignore its peoples right to survive, develop and progress. Despite the fact that the leadership in this country is still looking forward to the Ethiopian side taking the issue seriously and responding wisely to the good intentions expressed by the Egyptian delegation, yet several scenarios have also been put in place in accordance with the expected responses from the Ethiopians. All parties should realise that we are running out of time and patience, which will not be in anyone s interest. The Ethiopian leadership should realise that its attitude will never lead to peace and development and will have serious consequences. Betting on time is not exactly the best way to settle such serious issues and it is certainly not the right path to enhance and promote bilateral ties based on mutual respect of each other s rights.
Despite the spread and the suffering of the Corona virus epidemic, many people are still wandering in the streets for no good reasons. Many women in popular areas allow their children to play in the streets as if they are in vacation. It seems that the story of people’s failure to adhere to moral standards and public procedures existed many years ago. It was documented in a social study by the researcher Yaqoub