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INVESTIGATIONS have revealed further failures in the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, including a two-month delay in ordering vital medical equipment.
Research by the Associated Press into federal purchasing contracts showed that agencies waited until mid-March before placing bulk orders for N95 respirator masks, mechanical ventilators and other items.
Hospitals were already struggling to cope with demand and pleading for medical and protective equipment from the Strategic National Stockpile, created 20 years ago to deal with gaps in supply during a national emergency.
That stockpile has now been drained as the number of patients receiving critical care continues to rise. But some local health officials say they have received damaged equipment, including “decade-old dry-rotted masks.”
“We basically wasted two months,” said Kathleen Sebelius, who was health and human-services secretary under Barack Obama.
The Trump administration is accused of squandering the time bought by China, as the president continued to downplay the impact of Covid-19 despite it becoming clear that the disease was spreading rapidly.
News of the failure to prepare adequately came after the discovery of two memos sent by Trump trade adviser Peter Navarro warning of the “increasing probability of a full-blown Covid-19 pandemic that could infect as many as 100 million Americans, with a loss of life of as many as 1-2 million souls.”
Mr Trump has been widely criticised for his inability to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. In particular, he has clashed with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, whose state has become the epicentre of the outbreak with nearly 6,000 deaths.
Despite Mr Cuomo’s repeated appeals for support, Mr Trump refused for nearly a month to invoke the Defence Production Act to force companies to start making ventilators and protective equipment.
The president has also insisted that states and local officials should lead the respond to the crisis, rather than the federal government, which has led to a lack of co-ordination and states competing against each other in the market for equipment.
“You now literally will have a company call you up and say: ‘Well, California just outbid you,’” Mr Cuomo said. “It’s like being on eBay with 50 other states, bidding on a ventilator.”
Washington has been accused of seeking to distract attention from its own blunders by launching a global anti-China propaganda campaign, smearing Beijing by falsely accusing it of a cover-up over Covid-19.
On Tuesday evening, Mr Trump threatened to cut off funding for the World Health Organisation, which his allies in Congress have accused of colluding with China and pushing “communist propaganda.”
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