Trump shut down vital programme to detect pandemics just months before coronavirus broke out

Moya Lothian-McLean@moya_lm
Friday 03 April 2020 09:15
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(Getty)

Amazing how hindsight works, isn’t it?

In the UK, the Tory government is taking a leaf out of “Corbyn’s playbook” i.e. adopting Labour proposals they previously dismissed in order to help the country through the coronavirus pandemic.

Moves like nationalising the railways, housing all the homeless and wiping out £13.4 billion in NHS “debt” has people questioning what the situation might have looked like if the state had done those things before Covid-19 hit.

And the US isn’t exempt from pondering the “if onlys”.

In 2009, the US Agency for International Development launched an initiative called ‘PREDICT’.

It was a global programme, with more than 60 labs across the world, that identified animal viruses with the potential to infect people.

During the project’s duration, it had managed to detect 1,200 different viruses, including new strains of Ebola and 160 novel coronaviruses, reports the LA Times.

In fact, one of the labs PREDICT offered training and staff support for was the Wuhan site where they eventually identified SARS-CoV-2 aka the coronavirus behind Covid-19.

But PREDICT had its funding pulled in September 2019 by Donald Trump’s administration.

That’s just two months before Covid-19 is thought to have begun its spread in China.

Now PREDICT has been granted a six-month extension from 1 April to continue its work but the scientists behind it say it’s too little, too late.

“Look at the name: Our efforts were to predict this before it happens. That’s the part of the program that was exciting — and that’s the part I’m worried about,” Peter Dazak, president of EcoHealth Alliance, told the LA Times.

It’s absolutely critical that we don’t drop the idea of a large-scale, proactive, predictive program that tries to catch pandemics before they happen. Cutting a program that could in any way reduce the risk of things like COVID-19 happening again is, by any measure, shortsighted.

It’s also been revealed by USA Today that in May 2018, Trump’s biodefense preparedness adviser, Luciana Borio, warned that a flu pandemic was the USA’s “number one health security threat”.

But John Bolton, Trump’s former national security adviser, cut the pandemic preparedness team in 2018 to “streamline” the agency.

When Trump was asked about the decision last week he said “didn’t do it”.

I just think it's a nasty question.

And when you say ‘me,' I didn't do it. ... I don't know anything about it.

We’ll that’s fine then! Case closed. No more questions, your honour.

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