Coronavirus Task Force press briefing at the White House

Washington (Usa), 17/04/2020.- US President Donald J. Trump speaks during a press briefing with members of the coronavirus task force in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, DC, USA, 17 April 2020.

18-04-2020Oliver Contreras / POOL

America, with around 40,000 deaths so far, is the country in the world most afflicted by Covid-19. Many people would put this down largely to the stubborn refusal of President Donald Trump to take the threat seriously and delaying any action to fight it. He has compounded this failure with a series of provable lies in an effort to divert the blame elsewhere.

His latest target is the World Health Organisation, from whom he has cut off all funds. To do this in the middle of a global pandemic, in which the WHO is playing a central role, is not only wicked but stupid. He also fought, and lost, a needless macho battle with state governors which exposed his ignorance of his country’s constitution.

He claims that his ban on arrivals from China saved many lives, but 400,000 people came to America from China after the ban was imposed because it exempted US citizens. He exaggerated his country’s testing capability and its progress on a vaccine.

When the full story of the global coronavirus crisis of 2020 comes to be written – probably in several years’ time – the lack of leadership from the United States is bound to be a major theme. But western governments, including Britain, will not escape lightly. They had all received deadly warnings from scientists about the threat of a global pandemic, but chose to ignore them.

The main complaints against Britain’s response have been the woeful shortage of ventilators for patients and protective clothing for doctors and nurses and culpable slowness in getting mass testing.

The lack of testing can be partly excused on the grounds that this was a new disease and no tests could have been prepared in advance. But that doesn’t explain why Germany has been able to test so many more people than anyone else and thereby achieved a much lower death rate. The WHO, so despised by Trump, has had a refrain throughout the crisis of “testing, testing, testing.”

One interesting aspect of the crisis is that countries led by women – such as Germany, New Zealand, Taiwan, Finland, Denmark and Iceland - have suffered fewer deaths because they imposed lockdowns and flight bans more quickly.

If only, one has to say, the Democrats had a stronger candidate than the 77-year-old Joe Biden to challenge the unspeakable Trump in this year’s Presidential election. Or - better still, perhaps: if only they could choose a woman.

Undone by a single mistake

Two people died this week whose lives were unfairly overshadowed by a single mistake. One was Sir Peter Viggers, whose long and unblemished Parliamentary career was destroyed by the revelation during the MPs’ expenses scandal that he had claimed £1,645 for a floating duckhouse.

The fact that his claim had been rejected made no difference. Nor did the fact that he had successfully claimed £30,000 for gardening expenses, including 28 tons of manure. The duckhouse, an elaborate affair copied from a country house in Sweden, five feet high with a bridge for the ducks to climb up from the water to find shelter, was the sole focus of the media scandal.

His 36 years as a dutiful MP, his brief period as a Minister under Margaret Thatcher and his long stretch as chairman of the Defence Committee were all forgotten when David Cameron sacked him to save the party embarrassment. All anyone remembers about him is the duckhouse. I was amused to learn that when he took a colleague out to lunch to bemoan his sacking, he had retained sufficient sense of humour to order duck.

The other unlucky man was Peter Bonetti, the brilliant Chelsea goalkeeper whose heroic exploits over many seasons were forgotten in the rush to judgement over the fact that he let in a sloppy German goal that did for England in the quarter-final of the 1970 World Cup.

Bonetti had the misfortune to be playing at the same time as the incomparable Gordon Banks. It was only because Banks had food poisoning an hour ahead of the match that Bonetti got his chance.

He took the blame for England’s defeat in extra-time when some of it should have been directed at the manager, Sir Alf Ramsey, for pulling off Bobby Charlton and Martin Peters too soon when England were leading 2-nil. The absence of such key players allowed the Germans to recover.

Pele once said that the three best goalkeepers he had ever played against were Banks, Bonetti and Lev Yashin, the great Russian. Both Viggers and Bonetti were supremely loyal people – one to the Conservative Party, the other to the Chelsea club – but it makes no difference to the way they are remembered.

The loss of live sport

Most men (and some women) who are asked what they have missed most during the lockdown is watching sport on television. I feel the same and can hardly wait for the rugby and football seasons to be resumed (if they ever are), not forgetting the start of the new cricket season.

The archive programmes put on the TV channels in lieu of live sport have gone some way to make up for this (insofar as I’ve been allowed near the TV screen by my locked-down children). I recommend Channel 145 for starving fans as well as the Sky and BT sport channels.

I have enjoyed the replays of Lions Test matches in New Zealand, England’s victory in last year’s cricket World Cup, together with Ben Stokes’s immortal innings against the Australians at Headingley, and Manchester United’s historic victory in the Champions Cup of 1999 which gave them the unprecedented triple of League, Cup and European triumphs.

Keen as I am to see live sport back on TV, I am sceptical of the plan to film the outstanding football and rugby matches behind closed doors. I can see that the clubs in both sports, some of whom are facing bankruptcy, desperately need to justify the millions they have been paid by the broadcasters, who might otherwise demand their money back.

But there are numerous problems, apart from the curious lack of atmosphere that would be generated without any spectators to cheer or boo their teams, their opponents or the referee.

Surely all the players, match officials, managers and backroom staff, plus the cameramen and media covering the event at the ground, would need to have been tested and found negative for Covid-19. And how could that be done when there appears to be insufficient testing equipment, even for front-line NHS and care home workers?

I want England to smash Italy and secure the Six Nations championship and I want Manchester United to fight their way into the top four of the Premier League in order to qualify for Europe. But my wishes, sadly, may not be enough.


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