I often find, in history as well as in current events, that having a timeline can be very useful in sorting out just what happened and when, and for judging claims made later on. It is, unfortunately, impossible to do a full timeline on Trump’s mishandling, misadministration, and maladministration of the Covid-19 pandemic in a single diary; more likely, it will take a book. Or several books. So I’ve narrowed my scope to Trump and China (with some notes on WHO), since he’s been trying to set up China as the scapegoat for his incompetence. But even here I have to limit my selection to some major points.
Sources for this timeline start with Fact check: Trump denies saying another thing he said and makes more false claims at coronavirus briefing (CNN), Power Up: President Trump targets China as the new thrust of his reelection campaign (WaPo), Trump’s ugly new blame-shifting scam spotlights his own failures (WaPo), a Wiki timeline, and Criticized for Pandemic Response, Trump Tries Shifting Blame to the W.H.O. (NYT).
Feb 1 CDC closes its epidemic prevention facility in China. (H/t to Mutual Aid)
Nov 17 According to the South China Morning Post (Newsweek), the first case of would be labelled Covid-19 was recorded in Wuhan.
Dec Chinese authorities try to suppress news of a new virus, according to reports that surface later.
Dec 21 Date that an article by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CCDC) will later report (Jan. 21, 2020) that the first cluster of cases was diagnosed in Wuhan.
Dec 31 China officially informs WHO that a new pneumonia has been found in Wuhan. Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan tighten screening procedures for entry.
Jan 1 CDC director is briefed by his Chinese counterpart.
Jan 9 WHO says China “acted swiftly” to identify the virus, also that China says the virus doesn’t transmit readily between people — but that more study is needed.
- Chinese scientists report they have isolated the genetic sequence of the virus and have made it available to researchers. This will be key to finding a treatment and vaccine. Trump will later claim that China has been refusing to share data (date uncertain).
Jan 18 HHS Secretary Alex Azar calls Trump to talk about the new virus in China (and by now in the US, in Washington state). Trump is more interested in the vaping problem.
Jan 20 China confirms that human-to-human transmission has occurred. Top China leaders warn local authorities not to try to cover up the virus.
Jan 22 WHO issues a statement saying it’s still too early to declare a public emergency, but warns that the virus can appear in any country, and estimates R0 (human-to-human transmission) at 1.4 to 2.5.
- In an interview with CNBC, Trump insists that “we have [the virus] totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. It’s—going to be just fine.”
Jan 23 State orders the evacuation of all non-emergency personnel from the Wuhan consulate.
Jan 24 WHO issues an updated travel advisory recommending entry and exit screening but, as per its standard policy, does not advise travel restrictions (they reduce the ability to bring experts into the affected areas and the willingness of countries to cooperate).
- Trump tweets that China “has been working very hard” to beat the coronavirus and thanks Xi.
Jan 24-31 At least 28 countries issue full or partial bans on travel to and/or from China. This includes six countries who issued a ban prior to the WHO emergency declaration.
Jan 29 American Airlines announces it will suspend service between LAX and Shanghai and Beijing starting Feb 6. Other airlines announce similar actions.
Jan 30 WHO declares the coronavirus a public health emergency of international concern.
- Trump tells Fox that he’s “dealing very closely with China” and that China is “working very hard” to combat the virus.
Jan 31 Trump orders restrictions (he calls it a “ban”) on entry of all non-US citizens and residents who have been in China during the two weeks prior to entry, to take effect Feb 2. Since the announcement, around 40,000 people have come from China to the US.
- Italy also issues a full ban on Jan 31, effective immediately.
Feb 2 State issues a Level 4 advisory (do not travel) for all China.
Feb 24 Trump praises the CDC and the WHO for working together to control the virus.
Mar 12 A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman says the virus may have been brought in from the US in October 2019.
Mar 16 Reportedly furious at the Chinese statement, Trump calls Covid-19 the “Chinese virus.”
Mar 25 SoS Pompeo tries to force the term “Wuhan virus” into a G7 communique. His effort is rejected.
There’s more, of course; there’s always more. But this is enough to make these points about Trump, China, and the WHO:
- China did try to play down, cover up, and diminish concern over the coronavirus in the beginning. Since the end of December, they have been more cooperative generally, with some backsliding and attempts to shift blame and deflect criticism.
- While the WHO could have been more forceful in pushing China to disclose what was happening, the delays do not appear to be significant, and the WHO, having no power to demand anything from any country, does not appear to have shown China any particular favoritism. The WHO opposed banning travel to and from China because it objects to all such bans as ineffective and counterproductive.
- The United States was far from the first country to ban or restrict travel from China; at least 28 countries had done so already, as had several airlines.
- Throughout January and February, Trump continued to praise China and President Xi for working hard to combat the virus, and for their cooperation with the US and WHO.
I can’t definitively say that the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman’s absurd charge is what triggered the change in Trump’s attitude toward China; by then, both countries were looking for someone else to blame. There’s also a lot I left out about the internal administration battles over China, and concerns that coming down too hard on China might cause problems with trade negotiations and access to supplies and pharmaceuticals manufactured there. But there’s a big gap between not overtly angering China and sucking up to it, and of course when Trump decided to blame China, he didn’t appear to consider those issues at all.
Government by pique.