Lack of Confidence in Obama’s Handling of Ebola Could Sicken Economy

As the stress level for Americans rises because of the known cases of Ebola in the U.S., it takes me back to November 2002 when I was often visiting and working in Hong Kong. That’s when an outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) broke out in the Guangdong province of China, which borders Hong Kong.

Little was known about SARS, and it didn’t help that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) discouraged its press from reporting on SARS and lagged in informing the situation to the World Health Organization (WHO) for four months.

In the meantime, when the PRC did report the SARS outbreak, it only reported 305 cases, when in fact there were more than 800 known cases. And when a WHO team travelled to Beijing, it was not allowed to visit the Guangdong province for several weeks.

During the next few months, the illness spread to more than two dozen countries in North America, South America, Europe and Asia before the SARS global outbreak was contained.

According to WHO, a total of 8,098 people worldwide became sick with SARS during the 2003 outbreak. Of these, 774 died.

If you recall, SARS is a viral respiratory illness that can be spread airborne, which makes it more contagious than Ebola is. Although it is believed Ebola can only be spread through direct contact with an infected patient, many believe it can quickly mutate and be spread through a simple cough or sneeze, potentially making it just as dangerous as SARS.

While Ebola and SARS are different diseases, both were impacted by a botched response from the government.

As mentioned, the press in China was initially forbidden to talk about SARS, but after the facts came out that the SARS information had been embargoed, Chinese citizens wondered what else their government was not telling them. Panic spread.

Soon people stopped going outside. They didn’t shop, eat at restaurants or go to work. People’s confidence in their government disappeared as the economy took a deep dive.

With Ebola, like China’s response to SARS, the U.S. government’s response was slow and grossly inadequate. But unlike China, the U.S. press was in front of this story, to the point of creating unwarranted panic.

Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention allowed a nurse that was treating an Ebola patient in Texas to travel on a commercial jet.

One result of this is that airline stocks have tanked because people are afraid to fly, mechanics are afraid to work on them and cleaners are terrified of what they might encounter.

Nurses don’t think they have the protection and protocols they need to treat Ebola patients.

Meanwhile people who had contact with this nurse and other patients with Ebola have been quarantined

I heard a radio interview with a health worker asking the public not to discriminate against these people when they re-enter society. These people aren’t lepers. They were put in danger because the government’s response was too slow and too fractured.

Is Obama taking blame for this? Of course not. Instead, he admonished Americans for having given in to hysteria. But what should we do when we’re not getting the facts, and as more cases are being discovered, the only message from the White House is that everything is under control.

And then the White House trots out Democratic operative Ron Klain as the nation’s “Ebola Czar” — an Obama inner circle crony with none of the qualifications needed for the job. Is this seriously supposed to give us more confidence?

The Ebola scare, like all emergencies that come to the White House’s attention, was met with a tepid response with no authority behind it.

It took longer than a year for Hong Kong to recover from SARS. We need decisive action and a plan that demonstrates America is really safe. Let’s start with a travel ban.

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