Corona’s March Madness forces EU to control open borders

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By John J. Metzler

UNITED NATIONS — Truth is often stranger than fiction.  If somebody suggested a thriller novel plot set to the backdrop of gyrating stock markets, falling oil prices, rising tensions with Iran, amidst a spreading worldwide health pandemic, all juxtaposed to a contentious American Presidential election, most literary agents would gruffly scoff, “it’s too far-fetched.”  Perhaps, but look at the news.

The Coronavirus, which started in China late last year in Wuhan has since mushroomed into a full-fledged flu epidemic from the Far East to Western Europe and Middle America.

Austria has closed its border with Italy. / Kerstin Joensson / AP

Corona or more properly COVID-19 has dramatically changed day to day life and drastically-reduced business activity, shut schools and Universities, and cancelled sporting events.

Even James Bond, or should we say his latest movie No Time to Die, has been postponed due to the Corona.

The 24/7 media and especially social media has turned the crisis into a near frenzy of information, disinformation and often simply information overload.  People are nervous.

The Geneva-based World Health Organization (WHO) was hesitant and indecisive in declaring COVID- 19 a pandemic.  Indecision cost lives.  WHO at long last declared a pandemic on March 11 forcing the U.S. to take more concerted measures to address the expanding health crisis.

Global markets tanked on the 12th; Wall Street nosedived in a gut-wrenching spiral.

But on Friday the 13th, the most improbable of days, the Tide temporarily turned after President Donald Trump, flanked by medical professionals and high-power business executives held a White House press conference declaring a full National Emergency.  Had Trump taken this step before WHO’s pandemic declaration, most critics would have seen the President’s actions as a crass power play; in this case it was largely viewed as a focused message of both national solidarity and needed reassurance.

Vice President Mike Pence declared, “We put the health of America first.”  This signals a time to come together as Americans, not as political partisans.

Trump’s press conference underscored a powerful Public/Private partnership to battle Corona, not just a top down Washington political quick fix many had wanted. Why?  Because the American private sector especially in the Pharma and Health sectors has both the capacity and financial interest to solve the crisis and not just shuffle it to bureaucratic government committees.

Stock markets, which endured record losses a day earlier, surged with major gains.  But the rollercoaster ride has NOT ended.  And herein lies the problem both in Europe and America.

We are facing the opening salvos of a serious and sustained battle with the still elusive COVID-19 virus.  Corona has seen 81,000 confirmed cases in China with 3,230 deaths, South Korea has 8,300 cases with 81 fatalities.

The administration called for a massive $50 billion assistance plan which allows for free Corona testing, small business aid, and expanded medical care.

As one who often ventures across the pond, I was initially skeptical about the President’s bold one-month travel ban to Europe.  The stark reality remains that not only Italy but elsewhere on the continent has seen a serious spike in Coronavirus cases and deaths.  This is a fact.  Italy has seen over 28,000 cases with 2,158 fatalities which threatens to dramatically expand.  So far the USA has recorded 4,700 cases with 85 fatalities.

France for example has ordered closures of non-essential shops, cafes, restaurants and cinemas.   Switzerland has closed schools, banned gatherings of over 100 people, and ended the ski season.  Arbitrary closings of this style would be considered draconian by most Americans.

Europe appears to be the pandemic’s epicenter.

Open borders throughout the European Union, except for Britain which even as an EU member had the common sense to control its frontiers, has facilitated moving the virus all over the map.

Now the Swiss have reestablished frontier controls with the European Union.  Austria, the Czech Republic and Slovakia have now closed borders.

Though COVID-19 poses a serious health threat, the Mainstream media can’t help but gleefully pontificate and politicize the pandemic.  Corona threatens to tip the world economy into a recession.

With a suspension of the NBA Basketball season and College March Madness, Hockey, and the start of the Baseball season, the virus affects us all.

UN offices are closing for nearly a month with most staff telecommuting.  Secretary General  Antonio Guterres stated, “We must declare war on this virus.”  He added, “This is a time for prudence, not panic.”

During Britain’s darkest hour in WWII the phrase, “Keep Calm and Carry On” embodied the dogged Churchillian spirit.  We must do no less.

John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014). [See pre-2011 Archives]

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