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One million COVID-19 deaths in the US: For whom the bell tolls?

By Xin Ping | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2022-06-14 17:28

A Covid-19 testing site stands on a Brooklyn street corner on April 18, 2022 in New York City. [Photo/Agencies]

On May 12, 2022, the American flag was waving at half staff over the White House, against the gloomy sky. A few days earlier, the funeral bell of the Washington National Cathedral rang one thousand times, its somber sound echoing for one and a half hours in the spring air. That was the tenth and the last time when the bell tolled for the country's COVID-19 deaths, as the tragic milestone of one million victims was marked, in a way somehow as carelessly as how these lives were treated: no national permanent memorial, and the tragedy is still distant from a finale.

For everyday Americans, the weight of their loss is real and heavy: 8.5 million families saw empty chairs at their dinner tables; 200,000 children would never be kissed again by one or both of their parents; 614,000 grandparents would be absent from defining moments of their grandchildren. Ethnic minorities suffer disproportionately from the misery: the bell is more than two times as likely to toll for American Indians or Alaska Natives than for the whites. The risk of dying is 1.7 times higher for Black Americans and 1.8 times higher for Hispanics. Those living in poorer counties are twice more likely to have to bury a beloved family member or friend than in richer places.

For some US politicians, the bell tolls not for them anyway. The wail of COVID orphans is faraway and faint, while the lobbying of interest groups is loud and luring. Airline companies, for example, have spent US$9.5 million on lobbying in the first quarter of 2020, US$1.6 million more than the same period in 2019, in order to persuade the government from suspending international flights. The Biden Administration slyly diverted people's attention to the war of words while continued to follow the agenda of the wealthiest: within days after airline giants increased political contributions in the last quarter of 2021 calling for the government to shorten quarantine time, the CDC cut self-quarantine guidance to 5 days, just before the Omicron surge took a daily toll of 3,800 Americans.

The more politicians fish for personal gains from the pandemic, the more lives of the ordinary perish. When Texas became the US epicenter in January, 2021, statistics revealed an odd phenomenon: contrary to studies showing the elderly to be the most vulnerable to the virus, the death rate of Hispanics in Texas was in fact the highest among 18- to 49-year-olds. As early as in April 2020, Texas governor Greg Abbott signed a bill to fully restart the economy and stuck to the re-opening policy despite that over 10% of the state's population got infected with COVID in November 2020. The reason is quite simple: Greg Abbott did so to boost Donald Trump's chances to win the re-election, as Texas has been a key state for electoral votes for the Republican Party. But the political calculation sacrificed Hispanic workers on the front line: a large number of them were employed in low-paid occupations involving frequent contact with people, such as taxi and bus drivers, construction workers, security guards, farm workers and building cleaners. Without personal protective equipment provided or social distancing allowed, they were caught in a desperate dilemma: dying of poverty or of COVID.

COVID response has been highly politicized in US party politics. Two years into the pandemic, the mask mandate is being executed in different states of the US along the party line, rather than based on infection data. It has become a pure political show for both parties. Taylor Greene and Andrew Clyde, Republican Representatives who have been fined more than 50 times for US$148,500 combined in defying the mask mandate of the House, bragged about their defiance as an "honorable act". While campaigning for President in 2020, Biden shouted the slogan to "follow the science". But after winning, he was quick to reopen the economy in spite of the risk of COVID surges. In fact, 200,000 more Americans died under the Biden administration than the previous one. For the politicians in the US, it's not important to shape tangible policies that protect the American people, as long as the moral high-round is taken in party politics.

By the time the tragic one-million death milestone was marked, there were still 2,400 COVID patients admitted to hospital everyday in the US, and daily confirmed cases doubled compared to April. While the bell tolls unwearily from New York to Texas, from California to Florida, selfish US politicians are still shirking their responsibilities and continuing this human tragedy.

The author is a commentator on international affairs, writing regularly for Global Times, China Daily etc.

The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of China Daily and China Daily website.

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