On the first day of the federal guidance of social distancing being lifted in the United States on Friday morning, the Meridian International Center organized webinar briefing with Ron Klain, former Chief of Staff for Vice President Joe Biden moderated by NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly. Mr. Klain has also served as a White House Ebola Response Coordinator from 2014-2015 as he covered geo-politics, domestic politics, and pandemic response with Ms. Kelly. Many questions being raised encompass how the country will move forward economically and the country's role in the world stage during this crises and with the world.
In evaluation of WHO's response to the pandemic, Mr. Klain gave mixed remarks. He deemed the organization too slow in declaring the crises a public health emergency to the world and also failed to "get to the bottom" of uncovering the facts from China. They did, eventually, declare back in January of this year, the pandemic a health emergency but criticised President Trump and his administration for failing to heed to the warnings in a prompt manner. He also believed it unecessary for the United States to cut off funding for WHO in the middle of this pandemic as it is not helping the situation. In regards to the United Nations' role, Mr. Klain believed the organization "did not play much of a role" in the crises as it showed to be "ineffective" in its' Ebola response. Although well-intentioned, there was much leadership change therefore it did not distinguish itself in its' role. From his experience in the fight against Ebola, he learns that we live in an interconnected planet.
Mr. Klain does believe there is a role for other global instituions such as the European Union. He suggested an EU-organized "white helmet battalion of responders" as we learned from the Ebola outbreak, there is increasing need for security and health response. He gave the example of many healthworkers being killed in Congo from the militia and rebels, citing the an internationalized unit as necessary.
When questioned on the Trump administration's failed response to the pandemic, Mr. Klain expressed his disapproval of the delayed actions from President Trump. He conveyed the need for a coordinated leadership as the White House currently have no clear lines of authority and accountability. Instead, there is much "confusion of who's running the show" with the "awkward" structure of the White House task force. He also criticised the government for their unwillingeness to use the defense production of testing kits and medical face masks which showed they were "behind in priorities". In result of the failed response of the government, Mr. Klain evidenced there is now regional state alliances formed where regional states have formed confederation in time where "broader cooperations above broader lines are most needed". This, according to Klain, is a step in the wrong direction for the country.
Another lesson learned from Ebola was the importance fo science and medical experts at forefronts making strategic decisions with the President but this was not demonstrated by Trump as he showed a contentious relationship with his health and science experts. Mr. Klain emphasized that it was important for the country to use every single tool to "overrespond" rather than waiting to see what is needed until it is too late.
Campaign related issues like the impact on upcoming elections were discussed such as whether polls will be open in November and how will voters be able to ensure their health and safety whilst being able to vote. Mr. Klain believes that it should be a given American right to get mailed a ballot as democracy should not be risked on a guessing game. Voting by mail has existed for 150 years, so there should be no problem in instilling that mailing system.
When asked if schools in the US will open by fall, Mr. Klain expects grades K-12 reopening varying by region as we must begin to get used to erratic and uneven form of life. He foresees the country entering a phase of regionalized and briefer shutdowns in different places and reopenings in others in an un-uniformed manner as the second wave of the pandemic approaches. As we enter phases of regionalzed and briefer shutdowns, we can expect to reopen sooner as well. He used Asian countries as an example of this rule, as they have experienced the SARS epidemic so responded earlier and closed sooner during the COVID-19 pandemic and in result, extinguished the disease sooner.
We should also expect novel series of approaches take by universities if they open in the Fall. There may be a mix of in-person and remote learning with measures to contstrain capacity in the colleges.
In terms of economy, Mr, Klain forecasts that there will be a gradual return where levels of activity are lower resulting in fewer employees and customers.
As we all live in an interconnected planet, no country can be safe unless this pandemic is extinguished everywhere. There are no walls that can be built to keep out the disease, therefore Mr. Klain believes we need the global leaders to come together in fighting this disease. America, in particular, as it is the character of American exceptionalism, therefore its' leadership in global health security is essential. From a self-interest point of view and humanitarian lens, America should be helping developing countries fight the disease.
For more information on Meridian International Center: https://www.meridian.org/