Photo: Robert F. Bukaty, AP
ROME (AP) – With confirmed cases of the US coronavirus hitting 5 million on Sunday, the highest in any country to date, the failure of the world’s most powerful nation to control fraud has come as a surprise and alarm in Europe.
Perhaps nowhere outside the US is America’s confused virus response seen with more confusion than in Italy, which was the zero of the European epidemic. The Italians were unprepared when the blast erupted in February, and the country still has one of the highest official death tolls in the world at over 35,000.
But after a severe nationwide, 10-week blockade, vigilant tracking of new clusters and general acceptance of masked mandates and social distance, Italy has become a model of virus content.
“Aren’t they interested in their health?” a mask-masked Patrizia Antonini asked about people in the United States as she strolled with friends along the shores of Lake Bracciano, north of Rome. “They have to take precautions. “They need a real deadlock.”
Much of the incredibleness in Europe stems from the fact that America had the benefit of time, European experience and medical knowledge to treat the virus that the continent itself did not have when the first COVID-19 patients began filling intensive care units.
More than four months into a sustained explosion, the U.S. reached 5 million marks, according to estimates held by Johns Hopkins University. Health officials believe the current number is probably 10 times higher, or closer to 50 million, given the limitations of testing and the fact that about 40% of all those who are infected have no symptoms.
“We Italians have always seen America as a model,” said Massimo Franco, a columnist for the daily Corriere della Sera. “But with this virus we have discovered a very fragile country, with poor infrastructure and a public health system that does not exist.”
With the world’s largest death toll in America at more than 160,000, its politicized resistance to masks and its overcrowding, European nations have banned American tourists and visitors from other countries with increasing cases from free travel on the block.
France and Germany are now setting up on-arrival tests for travelers from “at risk” countries, including the US.
“I am very aware that this affects individual freedoms, but I believe this is a reasonable intervention,” German Health Minister Jens Spahn said last week.
Mistakes were also made in Europe, from delayed blockages to insufficient protection for nursing homes and the critical lack of tests and protective equipment for medical staff.
Hard-hit Spain, France, Britain and Germany have seen the onslaught of infection with new cases amounting to 1,000 a day, and Italy cases passing over 500 on Friday. Some scientists say Britain’s beloved drinks may have to close again if schools reopen in September.
Europe as a whole has seen over 207,000 confirmed deaths from the virus, according to Johns Hopkins estimates.
In the US, new cases are going around 54,000 a day – an extremely large number even considering the country’s large population. And while that is falling from a peak of over 70,000 last month, cases are rising in nearly 20 states, and deaths are rising in most of them.
On the contrary, at least for now, Europe seems to have the virus somewhat under control.
“If medical professionals were allowed to operate in the United States, you would have wanted to cross that point in March,” said Scott Lucas, professor of international studies at the University of Birmingham, England. “But of course, medical and public health professionals were not allowed to continue to be screened,” he said, referring to President Donald Trump’s frequent underestimation of his experts.
When the virus first appeared in the United States, Trump and his supporters quickly dismissed it as a “hoax” or a hoax that would quickly disappear when warm weather arrived. At one point, Trump suggested that ultraviolet light or injectable disinfectants would eradicate the virus. (He later said he was in the face).
Trump’s frequent complaints about Dr. Anthony Fauci have regularly made headlines in Europe, where the American infectious disease expert is a respected figure. Italy’s leading COVID-19 hospital offered Fauc a job if Trump fired him.
Trump has defended the U.S. response, blaming China, where the virus was first discovered, for America’s problems and saying American numbers are so high because there is so much evidence. Trump supporters and Americans who have refused to wear masks against all the medical advice behind that line.
“There is no reason to be afraid of any disease that is there,” said Julia Ferjo, a mother of three in the Alpine, Texas, who is “easily” against wearing the mask. Ferjo, 35, teaches fitness classes at a large open-air gym. It does not allow participants to wear masks.
“When I breathed so hard, I would pass,” she said. “I don’t want people to just fall like flies.”
And health officials observed with alarm as thousands of bicycles gathered on Friday in the small South Dakota town of Sturgis for a 10-day annual motorcycle rally. The state has no mandate for the mask, and many bikers express disregard for measures aimed at preventing the spread of the virus.
Dr David Ho, director of the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center at Columbia University Irving Center, who is leading a team seeking treatment for COVID-19, decreed such behavior, as well as country-by-country treatment.
“There is no national strategy, there is no national leadership and there is no incentive for the public to act in unison and take action together,” he said. “This is what it should be, and we have completely abandoned it as a nation.”
When he enters Zoom, he calls on counterparts from all over the world, “not everyone can believe what they see in the US and they can not believe the words coming from the leadership,” he said.
Amid contempt from other countries, Trump national security adviser Robert O’Brien, recently recovered from a period with the virus, gave an optimistic image on CBS Sunday “Face the Nation”.
“We will fight like hell. We are working hard on vaccines. We are working hard on testing machines that are portable and fast. … We are working on therapies,” he said. “I am very impressed with our scientists and our doctors and our first responses and the people who are attacking this disease and God bless them all.”
Many Europeans proudly point to their national health care systems that not only test but treat COVID-19 for free, unlike the US system, where the virus crisis has only exacerbated income and racial inequalities in health care delivery.
“The coronavirus has brutally stripped the touch of a country that has slipped for years,” wrote Italian author Massimo Gaggi in his new book, Crack America, on US problems. who preached during COVID-19.
Gaggi said he started writing the book last year and then thought the title would be taken as a provocative wake-up call. Then the virus hit.
“By March the title was no longer a provocation,” he said. “It was clear”
Pane reported from Boise, Idaho. AP reporters from all over Europe contributed.
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