ROME (AP) – The failure of the United States to control the spread of coronavirus has been met with astonishment and concern in Europe as the world’s most powerful country approaches the global record of 5 million confirmed infections.
Probably nowhere outside the United States is there a reaction to the American virus with greater concern than in Italy, which was zero from the epidemic in Europe. Italians were unprepared when the outbreak broke out in February and the country still has one of the highest official deaths in the world at 35,000.
But after a strict national ten-week closure, vigilant monitoring of new clusters and general acceptance of mask mandates and social distancing, Italy has become a model for curbing viruses.
Much of Europe’s mistrust stems from the fact that America has benefited from time, European experience, and medical know-how to treat the virus, which the continent itself did not have when the first COVID-19 patients began filling intensive care units. And yet, with more than four months in a permanent outbreak, the United States is on track to achieve an astonishing 5 million confirmed infections, easily the highest in the world. Health officials estimate the actual number is closer to 50 million, given testing limits and the fact that up to 40% of all cases are asymptomatic.
“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 found a very fragile country, with poor infrastructure and a public health system that does not exist.”
Italian Health Minister Roberto Speranza did not back down from criticism of the United States, formally condemning Washington’s decision to refuse funding from the World Health Organization as “wrong” and marveling personally at President Donald Trump’s response to the virus.
After Trump finally put on a protective mask last month, Speranza told La7 television: “I’m not surprised by Trump’s behavior now; I used to be very surprised by his behavior. “
With America’s top 160,000 dead on the list, politicized resistance to masks and a growing number of cases, European nations have hampered American tourists and visitors from other countries with increasing cases of free travel to the block.
France and Germany are now imposing tests on arrival for passengers from “endangered” countries, including the United States.
“I know very well that this affects individual freedoms, but I believe that this is a justified intervention,” said German Health Minister Jens Span at the announcement of the tests last week.
Mistakes have also been made in Europe, from delayed blockades to insufficient protection for the elderly in nursing homes and a critical shortage of tests and precautions for medical staff.
The virus is still raging in some Balkan countries, with thousands of masked protesters demanding an end to virus restrictions in Berlin earlier this month. Severely affected Spain, France and Germany are seeing an increase in infection with new cases exceeding 1,000 a day, and cases in Italy rising above 500 on Friday. There are still around 3,700 new infections a day in the UK, and some researchers say the country’s favorite pubs may need to close again if schools are to reopen in September without causing a new wave.
In the United States, the new cases work at about 54,000 a day – an extremely large number, even when taking into account its larger population. And while this is from a peak of more than 70,000 last month, cases are rising in nearly 20 states, and mortality is rising in most.
In contrast, at least for now in Europe, the virus seems to be under control.
“If medical professionals were allowed to operate in the United States, you would be late to deal with it as early as March,” said Scott Lucas, a professor of international studies at the University of Birmingham in England. “Of course, medical professionals and public health professionals were not allowed to continue without scrutiny,” he said, citing the frequent undermining of Trump’s own experts.
When the virus first appeared in the United States, Trump and his supporters quickly dismissed it as a “scam” or a virus that would quickly disappear when the weather warmed up. At one point, Trump suggested that ultraviolet light or injectable disinfectants would eradicate the virus. (He later said it was a face).
Trump’s frequent complaints about Dr. Anthony Foci regularly make headlines in Europe, where the American infectious disease expert is a respected filth. Italy’s leading hospital, COVID-19, offered Fauci a job if Trump fired him.
Trump defended the US response, blaming China, where the virus was first discovered, for America’s problems, and said US numbers were so high because there were so many tests. Supporters of Trump and Americans who refused to wear masks against all medical advice back along that line.
“There’s no reason to be afraid of an illness that’s there,” said Julia Fergio, a mother of three in Alpine, Texas, who said she was “furious” against wearing a mask. Fergio, 35, teaches fitness classes in a large, open-door gym where she does not allow participants to wear masks.
“When you breathe so hard, I would die,” she said. “I don’t want people to go down like flies.”
And health officials watched anxiously as thousands of bikers gathered in the small South Dakota town of Sturgis on Friday for a 10-day motor rally. The state does not have masks on masks and many motorcyclists have expressed opposition to measures designed to prevent the spread of the virus.
Dr. David Ho, director of the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center at Columbia University’s Irving Medical Center, which leads a team seeking treatment for COVID-19, refused such behavior, as did the country’s leadership to fight the virus.
“There is no national strategy, no national leadership and no call on the public to act in unison and take action together,” he said. “It is necessary and we have completely given it up as a nation.”
When he enters Zoom conversations with colleagues from around the world, “Everyone can’t believe what they see in the United States and they can’t believe the words coming out of the leadership,” he said.
Even European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen took the unusual step of criticizing the United States when it called on Washington to reconsider its decision to sever ties with the WHO. She also issued veiled criticism of US efforts to buy stocks of any vaccine that could be effective, promising the EU to work to ensure access to all, “no matter where they live.”
Many Europeans proudly point to their national health care systems, which not only test but also treat COVID-19 for free, unlike the American system, in which the viral crisis only exacerbated incomes and racial inequalities in access to health care.
“The coronavirus has brutally removed the vulnerability of a country that has been slipping for years,” wrote Italian author Massimo Gadzhi in his new book, Crack America, on the US problems that long preceded COVID.
Gagi said he started writing the book last year and believes the title will be seen as a provocative awakening. Then the virus struck.
“By March, the title was no longer a provocation,” he said. “It was obvious.”
Pine reported from Boys, Idaho. AP reporters from all over Europe contributed.
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