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Coronavirus diary – Part 27

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US President Donald Trump takes off his facemask as he arrives at the White House upon his return from Walter Reed Medical Center, where he underwent treatment for Covid-19, in Washington, DC, on October 5, 2020. (Photo by NICHOLAS KAMM / AFP)


A mask can say a lot about the person who wears it. But even more about the person who doesn’t. Please wear a mask—CNN

On Friday, October 2, the news blasted all over the place to the effect that the first family of the United States of America, President Donald Trump, and wife Melanie Trump tested positive for COVID-19, in other words, they both contracted the deadly coronavirus. A sense of irony trailed the news because President Trump made light of the virus, refused to wear a mask despite criticism, and even violated Michigan state laws on wearing the mask without consequence. Now for the COVID-19 denials or the so-called skeptics, it is beyond doubt that COVID-19 is real. In my preface to this serial, titled ‘Judgment Day’ published on April 1, 2020, I had opined that the virus was a punishment for state actors who had neglected the provisions of social infrastructures including functional health care centres while looting the common till, especially in Nigeria. The closure of the international borders meant they had nowhere to run to for first-class medical treatment. As it turned out, many died at the First Cardiologist, a private hospital they all ran to in Lagos, Nigeria. Any lessons learnt? I don’t think so. 

Trump had been criticised that despite intelligence to the effect of the outbreak of COVID-19, he did nothing. The outcome is the 208, 000-plus deaths in America alone. David Smith of The Guardian (UK), captured well the Trump’s inclination concerning the virus: ‘‘Donald Trump tested positive for the coronavirus after claiming “it will disappear,” telling the journalist Bob Woodward he was downplaying it deliberately, failing to develop a national testing strategy, refusing to wear a face mask for months, floating the idea of injecting patients with bleach, insisting to one of his many crowded campaign rallies that “it affects virtually nobody” and, at Tuesday’s debate, mocking his rival, Joe Biden: “He could be speaking 200 feet away and he shows up with the biggest mask I’ve ever seen.”’

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The U.S. is the most affected country in the world. What an irony, the god of big things is humbled. The president’s mishandling of the virus in an election year has made the virus key to the dynamics of politics in that country. I shall return to this after the November elections in the U.S.

The U.S. is the global superpower despite an emerging multi-polar world. Many countries who hate America dare not say so because of the consequences. Every country warms up to its discomfiture. We saw this during September 11, 2001, terrorist bombing of key America targets. There was a coalition of the willing to wage war on Iraq and Afghanistan. Trump’s contraction of COVID-19 has elicited sympathies from world leaders, allies, and enemies alike. His trans-Atlantic buddy, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who had contracted COVID-19 much earlier and recovered, sent his get-well wishes. “My best wishes to President Trump and the First Lady. Hope they both have a speedy recovery from coronavirus.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu followed and tweeted, “Like millions of Israelis, Sara (Netanyahu’s wife) and I are thinking of President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump and wish our friends a full and speedy recovery.” And the polish president, Andrzej Duda, beholden to the U.S. to protect his country from Russian nuclear warheads, tweeted: “Our good wishes for speedy recovery to our friends… Poland and USA will get through the hardships and succeed in fighting COVID19.” Others, such as WHO president Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and European council President, Charles Michel both wished the first family full and speedy recovery.

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Trump’s mercurial temperament seems to suggest that this after all is about politics. Come to think of it, the fact of contraction is not in doubt. But politics being the art of the possible, there is always something out there the politicians can make political capital. President Trump is doing that at the moment despite doses of supplemental oxygen. On Sunday, October 4, he made a surprise visit to supporters outside Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland waving from inside a vehicle to supporters some of whom held posters that read, “I love President Trump”. In forethought, he had noted that he would do so. According to him, “I also think we’re going to pay a little surprise to some of the great patriots that we have out on the street. And they’ve been out there for a long time, and they’ve got Trump flags, and they love our country. So, I’m not telling anybody but you, but I’m about to make a little surprise visit.”

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His opponent in the November election, former Vice President Joe Biden has been statesmanlike about his opponent’s illness. Biden and wife said, “We will continue to pray for the health and safety of the president and his family”. He further noted, that “This is not a matter of politics, it’s a bracing reminder to all of us that we have to take this virus seriously.” Biden who had in August called for a nationwide mask mandate for Americans reiterated the need for utmost precaution including wearing a face mask. As he put it, “Be patriotic,” he said. “It’s not about being a tough guy, it’s about doing your part.” Biden’s humanism bears on his campaign team who had been advised to tone down. His campaign manager, Jen O’Malley said that “As this situation continues to unfold, we ask that you refrain from posting about the situation on social media unless otherwise directed by your manager”. Former President Obama who wished the first family speedy recovery complemented the humanist trope. According to him, “It’s important I think for all of us to remember that even when we’re in the midst of big political battles with issues that have a lot at stake, that we’re all Americans and we’re all human beings, and we want to make sure everybody is healthy.”

Some important lessons can be drawn from the ‘October surprise,’ as many commentators, such as David Smith, and John Myers of Los Angeles Times, have qualified the incident. The public health concern is lesson number one. As soon as the president tested positive for COVID-19, the White House gave New Jersey officials the about 200 names of people who were at Trump’s Bedminster golf club for a campaign fundraiser, his last major event. Transparency is lesson number two. The President disclosed his illness to the American public. In Nigeria today, nobody can tell what afflicts Nigerian President Buhari. President Trump has admitted learning new lessons. In his own words, “I learned a lot about covid,” he said. “I learned it by really going to school. This is the real school. This isn’t the ‘let’s read the book’ school. And I get it, and I understand it. And it’s a very interesting thing, and I’m going to be letting you know about it.” The outcome of his experience is that like Joe Biden, he has started wearing a big face mask.
Akhaine is a Professor of Political Science at the Lagos State University.

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