It appears Washington's first failing to protect against the spread of the deadly coronavirus began on what would be the 'front lines' months prior to the emergence of the pandemic.
A lengthy investigative report in Reuters found that the White House ordered the elimination of a key American Center for Disease Control (CDC) position in Beijing intended to monitor and study disease outbreaks in China.
The position was set up in cooperation with Chinese authorities prior to the currently deteriorating relations in this crucial area of combating the pandemic which has lately seen Trump and Pompeo resort to making repeat references to the “Chinese virus”.
“The American disease expert, a medical epidemiologist embedded in China’s disease control agency, left her post in July, according to four sources with knowledge of the issue,” writes Reuters. By many accounts, it was the United States' best chance at detecting the seriousness of the disease early and mobilize better American efforts against it, instead of waiting all the way till March to take drastic action.
It further weakens and exposes the White House charges against Beijing of deliberately hiding and downplaying the severity of the outbreak, given the US had a top disease specialized there but chose to call the scientist home.
“If someone had been there, public health officials and governments across the world could have moved much faster,” a prior top CDC expert who had occupied the now nixed position prior to 2012, Bao-Ping Zhu, told Reuters.
The last expert in the position months before coronavirus was detected has been identified as Dr. Linda Quick, part of whose job involved training the very Chinese field epidemiologists later deployed to virus hot zones in Wuhan and elsewhere across the country. She would have been the US "eyes and ears" on the ground had she been allowed to stay on — the prospect of which was made increasingly dim by the US-China trade war which apparently worsened relations in all other areas as well.
The Reuters indictment of the administration's reckless action is damning, and further includes the following:
No other foreign disease experts were embedded to lead the program after Quick left in July, according to the sources. Zhu said an embedded expert can often get word of outbreaks early, after forming close relationships with Chinese counterparts.
Zhu and the other sources said Quick could have provided real-time information to U.S. and other officials around the world during the first weeks of the outbreak, when they said the Chinese government tamped down on the release of information and provided erroneous assessments.
The post and the program, which was called U.S. Field Epidemiology Training Program in China, was officially defunded in September, while unexplained clusters of pneumonia later linked to the Covid-19 outbreak begain popping up in Wuhan province on Dec. 31.
President Trump on Sunday dismissed the Reuters report and others now alleging a botched and negligent belated response to the outbreak as “100 percent wrong”.