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Empty Washington National Airport

Photo: Xinhua

Should we remind everyone that America's 2009 H1N1 swine flu was novel? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)'s own reporting, it was "a unique combination of influenza virus genes never previously identified in either animals or people." It was first detected in a 10-year-old patient in California on April 15 and two days later in an 8-year-old 130 miles away, with no known connection. The CDC confirmed this virus was "new to humans."

Sounds a touch familiar, doesn't it? In 2009, there was also an accelerating number of cases in Mexico. The government instituted massive lockdowns of public spaces, and soldiers were distributing masks to citizens. Meanwhile, in the US little was done other than closing schools for a few weeks. It declined to close borders. Then president Barack Obama stated in January "The swine was a cause for concern but not a cause for alarm." CNN reported that the regular flu and the swine flu were essentially the same. By June, more than 70 countries and all 50 US states had infections. 

Imagine if such a similar incompetence had come from China during the past few weeks of the COVID-19 crisis. In 2009, the US CDC's advice was to stay home from work or school if you were ill. By July 24, the CDC discontinued reporting of individual cases of 2009 H1N1. H1N1 was left to spread. Final CDC estimates of worldwide deaths range from 200,000 to as many as 575,000. 

In June 2009, researchers alleged that the pandemic was caused by the accidental release of influenza virus from a research lab. In October, Obama declared a national emergency. The WHO was accused of being owned by pharmaceutical companies. Ultimately, the CDC put infection estimates at 1.4 billion worldwide. Thankfully, the death rate of the virus was low. 

Did anyone blame America for the worldwide spread of H1N1? No, they didn't. Did anyone suggest America should be held responsible and made to compensate the rest of the world for its criminal or at least negligent response? Who sued America in a Florida class action lawsuit seeking a country to "pay damages to the USA and the world"? The answer again is no one.

The irrational legal maneuvering does not exist because it is being used as a device to pour hatred from the faucet of the anti-China cold war propaganda machine. This coordinated attack is also the result of human emotional need to lash out frustration and to make inflammatory accusations. But such words would have never been seen as fit to print if it had been China accusing and suing the US for its slow response in containing the 2009 spread of H1N1. Truth is, America's problems today are a result of America's long-term pattern of delaying appropriate actions.

China also had local healthcare officials who delayed early reporting, but the country then responded with remarkably efficiency that helped its own society and the world. 

Now is the time to set aside all differences, and take advantage of opportunities we have for unity in civic duty. That is the message I sense rising to the forefront in the minds of several world leaders this week. Let us meet in the middle ground and do our civic duty and make the required sacrifices. 

In wartime, soldiers who are fathers and husbands and sons were called to serve on battlefields for months. Many ultimately gave their lives for their country. Today, people are only being asked to nest at home, and rebalance their lives with social distancing and masks. This is hard to screw up. 

The pandemic is not a violent war, but it is an emotional and mental battle no matter whether you are Chinese, American or Italian or any other nationality. Support one another heart to heart, mind to mind and spirit to spirit, together we will quell this crisis and meet together under the bright sunshine of a late summer day.  


Mario Cavolo is author, advisor & CEO, M Communications Group. He has lived in China for 21 years. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.