As we fight the pandemic, it’s wrong time to play the blame game

As we fight the pandemic, it’s wrong time to play the blame game
Posted on April 19, 2020 | | Written on April 19, 2020
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Author's Note:

Author's Note:

By Penny Collenette: professor of law at the University of Ottawa and was a senior director of the PMO for Jean Chrétien. Follow her on Twitter: @penottawa

The world’s game plan to “flatten the COVID-19 curve” was recently disrupted as political finger pointing and personal accusations emerged at international and domestic levels.

Apportioning responsibility to others is a human response but the timing of this blame game comes at a crucial moment in the global strategy of slowing the spread of the virus. Initially, political leaders seemed focused on the real enemy — the virus — with its terrible human toll and economic devastation.

However, it now appears that political attention has been unwisely diverted.

Unfortunately, Donald Trump, with his financial assault on the World Health Organization (WHO) and Alberta’s premier, Jason Kenney, with his personal attack on Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, have been willing to jeopardize the tightrope on which we are balancing.

In addition, politicians and academics around the world have begun a full fronted attack on China for its repressive regime, blatant disregard for human rights, and targeting of whistle blowers, not to mention the two Canadian hostages still in custody.

Policy debates aside, it is crucial that international co-operation for communication, data sharing, vaccine research and the sourcing of protective equipment be maintained. As well, respect for hardworking public health officials is key. Questioning their professional judgment is one thing, but personal attacks are inappropriate.

Furthermore, diverting attention and targeting too many opponents at once can waste precious resources. No amount of blame can change the present situation.

For these reasons, it was disheartening to watch Trump and Kenney harangue the health bodies and individuals who are working flat out to mitigate errors and save lives. Federal Conservative leader Andrew Scheer, voicing similar rhetoric, has at least, limited his comments to “serious concerns” about the WHO, its relationship with China and questions about any suppression of data.

While questions must be asked of the WHO about the timing of their announcements and their apparent deference to China’s explanation of information, nevertheless, the timing of Trump’s political hand grenade of the U.S. withdrawal of funds is deplorable.

Halting American funding of the WHO for 60 days as his administration conducts a “review,” likely to be led by the State department is reprehensible. There is no time for a review. There is only time to save lives.

Already in trouble with an attempt at a drive-by smear of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the highly respected American expert on infectious diseases, the president reverted to his old trick of distraction — a distraction which may prove to be fatal to others.

Given that the U.S. is the largest single government donor in the world, it is unclear if the WHO could make up this financial shortfall, which will also impact its vital work on polio and malaria. Without a global collaborating body to track and benchmark data, the world will be left with a patchwork of confusion, especially as the virus is about to hit low- and middle-income countries with fragile health systems.

While Trump was playing his blame game, Kenney decided to take on Tam. Kenney’s impatience and frustration on behalf of Albertans, who are also facing the decline of oil prices and energy projects, is easy to understand but to publicly lash out at Tam, alleging that she is speaking on behalf of the People’s Republic of China, is irresponsible behaviour for a leader.

Political brawls do not instill confidence. Until now, the daily press conferences and briefings by the prime minister, premiers and officials have helped to foster a climate of stability.

Government and public health officials had begun to shine, while partisan politics momentarily retreated. Attention had shifted to the dedicated public servants who actually run the machinery of government and to the courageous front-line workers.

There will be time ahead for analysis and investigations, which will be spread far and wide. Governments could fall. Geopolitical alliances may be torn asunder. International organizations will be under threat.

But right now, only one game plan is paramount — stop the spread of COVID-19, save lives and support emergency personnel. Anything else is senseless.

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