Two very different narratives are taking shape in the US over the dreaded coronavirus, which has brought China to its knees and is spreading like wildfire into the rest of East Asia, Europe, and yes, even the United States.
The first narrative is that the virus is a big “nothingburger.” The argument centers around the idea that the coronavirus is “just another flu” and is primarily impacting just China, and the handful of cases outside of China are nothing to worry about. Some of these people are arguing that the coronavirus will never come to the US in a significant way, or, if it does, it will kill few to no people. In this view, the media is just hyping the virus to get clicks and sell papers, and the virus panic is essentially fake news designed to “get Trump.”
The second narrative is that the virus is a looming mega-catastrophe which is going to bring down the global economy, kill tens of millions, or even hundreds of millions, and usher in the second Great Depression.
Neither of these narratives are really correct. The truth lies somewhere in between. I am going to try to offer some clarity on how the virus is being spun by both the Democrats and Republicans.
Is Trump right about a virus outbreak not being inevitable?
It’s probably best to start with Trump’s response to the virus, which is being widely criticized by the Democrats. In a recent press conference, he said this when asked about warnings from the CDC that a major US outbreak was inevitable:
As the Q&A began, Trump told a reporter that “no I don’t think it’s inevitable” when asked by a reporter about the CDC’s comments yesterday about the likelihood of “community” outbreaks. Trump answered another reporter’s question, claiming the US may need t restrict travel from Italy and South Korea, though “this is not the right time.”
The outbreak will impact US GDP, Trump acknowledged, though he said the impact “cannot really be determined.”
One reporter asked Trump for his thoughts on the stock market’s wild ride, which he blamed – in comic fashion – on the Dems.
What Trump is trying to do is prevent a major stock market crash. A severe enough crash could lead to a 2008 style crisis, and Trump has got to prevent that. The virus alone is bad enough, but a major recession or even a depression is going to make America’s problems a lot worse. It is therefore in the interest of the administration to soothe peoples’ fears for as long as possible to keep the economy and the markets from tanking.
So yes, I agree broadly he is trying to downplay the virus.
However, he also tried to thread the needle during the press conference and vowed that the administration was taking the crisis seriously, noting the appointment of Mike Pence as the administration’s “Coronavirus Czar.” Basically, he is trying to prove he is taking it seriously while at the same time trying to calm the stock market.
An outbreak in the US is all but inevitable with the disease spreading rapidly in Europe, Japan, and South Korea. It’s active in too many places to keep out of the US unless we halt all travel into the country, and with the cases popping up in California, it may already be too late.
So are the Democrats right that Trump has “caused” the virus and that the virus is going to kill all of us?
No, the Democrats are idiots as usual who are hoping the virus will crash the economy and kill a ton of people so that Bernie or Bloomberg can get elected. Remember, the Democrat leadership and activist class are mostly rich and will likely be insulated from any crash, and their incredible wealth ensures access to the best medical care in the unlikely event they even get infected in the first place.
However, just because it is in the interests of the Democrats to hype the virus, it doesn’t mean we should reflexively declare the virus to be a “nothingburger” or “just the flu” or a fake news plot to get Trump.
The virus is a problem. It’s already caused great harm to China and damaged the global economy. We just don’t know how much of a problem it is yet.
How much danger are we really in from the virus?
The short answer is we don’t know.
I’ve seen a lot of numbers being bandied about by the media that the mortality rate is “only” 2%. However, the basis of those numbers are a study that analyzed data released by China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention. It has been suspected for some time that China is grossly misreporting information about the virus. The belief that China is lying about the numbers has even been suggested by anonymous sources purportedly from the White House.
China also appears to have covered up the virus’ existence as long as they possibly could rather than trying to stop the virus when they had the chance. It is also suspected that the Wuhan wet market was not the original source of the coronavirus.I don’t think I need to drop any links to the rumors that the virus is something that escaped from a Wuhan virus research lab either.
Any data which comes out of China, in other words, should be treated as garbage because any data produced by the Chinese is inherently untrustworthy. We are not going to have reliable hard data on how dangerous this virus really is until we’ve had a few weeks to see what happens to those poor people in South Korea, Japan, and Italy who have caught the virus.
Another wild card is that the virus appears to be reinfecting some people. There were rumors it was happening in China, but now we have reliable confirmation from Japan that it happened to a victim who had recovered. We have no idea how the reinfection process works, why it is happening, or how frequently the “cured” will succumb to a second round of the disease.
It’s worth noting that if the 2% fatality rate is accurate, that means the virus will do about as much damage as the 1918 Spanish flu. That flu infected 27% of the world’s population at the time and killed tens of millions of people. If this virus is an equivalent to the Spanish flu, it’s still a tremendous problem. If the mortality rate is much higher… well, to be honest, I don’t really want to think about it.
If the virus is a threat, why hasn’t Trump closed the borders?
If Trump closes the borders and halts most international trade with the US, it will help keep the virus out but it will also panic the markets and crash the economy. Right now, assuming the decisions being made by the Trump administration are rational (and I believe they are rational), they seem to have decided that keeping the economy going is more critical than keeping the virus out.
Has China “solved” the virus?
The short answer is we don’t know. China has been claiming for some time now that new infections are slowing down and the situation is normalizing. However, as I noted above, the Chinese government is notorious for an inability to tell the truth. China is having a lot of trouble getting people to return to work despite their claims of everything being safe.
The claim being made is that the Chinese economy is slow to restart because people are struggling to find transport, and while I’m sure it’s a problem, I suspect many people don’t believe the epidemic has really passed and are scared to return to work. The stock market plunge this week shows investors don’t believe it either.
If China HAS “fixed” things, though, then it’s good news because it means their economy will restart, and we will probably avoid a recession in spite of the recent stock market panic. Let’s hope for once that China is telling the truth.