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April 16, 2020
Notes from the Pentagon

Stats back Trump on virus action
President Trump criticized The New York Times this week for a report critical of his response to the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, calling the multiple-reporter takeout story “a total fake.”

“It’s a fake newspaper and they write fake stories, and someday — hopefully in five years, when I’m not here — those papers are all going out of business because nobody is going to want to read them,” he said Monday.

Statistics compiled by the Trump administration seem to bear out the president’s defense of success as the result of actions taken early in the outbreak — despite the fact that China had provided damaging false information on the lethality and transmissibility of the disease originating in Wuhan.

“President Trump took early and decisive action to help slow the spread of the virus and protect the health and well-being of Americans, saving countless lives in the process,” White House National Security Council spokesman John Ullyot told Inside the Ring.

A senior administration official disclosed that in mid-January the U.S. government began screening travelers from Wuhan, and on Jan. 31 the United States was the first nation to restrict travel from China. The action helped persuade other major nations to follow suit.

“Today, we are seeing a 99% reduction in travel volume from China,” the official said. “Within 24 hours of the restrictions first being implemented on Feb. 2, passenger volume from China dropped over 60% and has continued to decrease since.”

The number of passengers arriving from China fell from around 16,000 per day in January to fewer than 2,500 a day within a week of the travel ban. In the first 30 days of the travel restrictions, 81% of the passengers arriving from China were U.S. citizens returning home.

The Chinese government bristled at the swift U.S. response, accusing Washington of having “inappropriately overreacted, which certainly runs counter to WHO advice.”

U.S. curbs on travel to the United States by foreign nationals who had recently been to China were the first in the Western world, including all of Europe. Only Trinidad and Tobago and the Bahamas imposed similar restrictions three days earlier.

The travel restrictions were taken in anticipation of a potential health crisis yet were criticized by the World Health Organization. The U.N. agency early on was effusive in its praise for what was later found out to have been Beijing’s disastrous initial response to the health crisis.

“The WHO praised China’s top leadership for its ‘openness to share information’ and steadfastly advocated against travel restrictions,” the official said.

As of Jan. 12, WHO officials were saying — falsely, it would be learned — that the virus was not spreading among people.

Just prior to the U.S. announcement of travel curbs, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus announced that his agency “opposes any restrictions for travel and trade” against China. A week later, he reiterated a request from WHO “to all countries not to impose any restrictions that unnecessarily interfere with international travel and trade” on China. Mr. Tedros argued that “such restrictions could have the effect of increasing fear and stigma, with little public health benefit.”

Mr. Trump announced this week that the U.S. is suspending more than $400 million in annual payments to WHO.

Today, the number of foreign nationals traveling from China or who were recently in China is fewer than 200 per day at 13 U.S. airports. Those in that category are receiving enhanced health screening.

Since Feb. 2, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and U.S. Customs and Border Protection screened over 59,000 foreigners who arrived from China or were recently in the country.

The screening process involves filling out a health declaration form that asks whether an arriving traveler has a link to China or another country with similar travel restrictions.

The form asks travelers for contact information and basic health questions, such as whether the person has a cough, fever or difficulty breathing. It assesses other risk factors and includes random temperature checks.

The Times report Sunday carried the headline “He Could Have Seen What Was Coming: Behind Trump’s Failure on the Virus” and quoted critics of the president who said he did not respond quickly enough to the epidemic.

The Chinese government is under fire for what U.S. officials say is racism against Africans and black Americans over fears that they are causing a rebound of the COVID-19 epidemic.

Africans in the city of Guangzhou in recent days were forced from their homes by Chinese police, had passports taken and faced selective home isolation. Hotels and restaurants, including McDonald’s outlets, also are reportedly discriminating against African patrons in the southern city.

The fast-food chain apologized after a restaurant posted a sign saying blacks were not welcome. The sign was removed, and the statement said it was “not representative of our inclusive values.”

A State Department official accused the Chinese government of xenophobia for the racist treatment of Africans.

“The abuse and mistreatment of Africans living and working in China is a sad reminder of how hollow the PRC-Africa partnership really is,” said the official, using the acronym for the People’s Republic of China.

“At a time when we should be supporting one another to recover from a pandemic PRC officials recklessly hid from the world, Chinese officials are busy evicting African students into the streets without food or shelter.

“It’s unfortunate but not surprising to see this kind of xenophobia towards Africans by Chinese authorities,” the official added. “Anyone who watches Chinese engagement in projects across Africa recognizes this kind of abusive and manipulative behavior.”

In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian, who in the past cited false reports that the U.S. Army had spread the coronavirus in China, said the United States was “telling lies” about racism in Guangzhou.

“We don’t discriminate against our African brothers,” Mr. Zhao said.

Guangdong province, where Guangzhou is located, has a population of 117,000 foreigners, including 6,700 from Africa. The actions are souring China’s relations with African nations in what officials said is a looming crisis over several days of evictions and mistreatment of African migrants by landlords and local authorities in Guangzhou.

“African officials are confronting China publicly and in private over racist mistreatment of Africans in the Chinese city of Guangzhou, and African Americans have been targeted too,” according to a U.S. official.

The U.S. Embassy in Beijing, in a security alert issued Saturday, said Chinese police “ordered bars and restaurants not to serve clients who appear to be of African origin.”

Local authorities also required mandatory medical testing and self-quarantine for “anyone with ‘African contacts.’”

The mistreatment of Africans prompted a group of African ambassadors in Beijing to write to the Foreign Ministry condemning what they said was “persistent harassment and humiliation of African nationals.” Photos and video shown on social media captured Africans being evicted by police from their homes and being forced to sleep on the street.

One post stated that “China is evicting Africans in the country [as] a way of shifting blame of the coronavirus on them.”

The U.S. Air Force sent an unmistakable message to China this week with a show of force on Guam called an “elephant walk.” A lineup of more than 10 warplanes was held on a runway at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, in a photograph that the base said shows “Anderson remains ready.”

Guam is a major U.S. military hub in the Pacific and would be a key base for any operations in China in a future conflict.

The aircraft included Air Force B-52 bombers, RQ-4 Global Hawk long-range drone, and KC-135 refueling tankers, along with a Navy MH-60 helicopter and MQ-4C Triton drone.

“The Elephant Walk showcases the 36th Wing’s readiness and ability to generate combat airpower at a moment’s notice to ensure regional stability throughout the Indo-Pacific,” base officials said.

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter via @BillGertz.

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