US President Donald Trump waves to supporters as he rides by in the presidential motorcade in front of the Walter Reed military medical centre in Bethesda, Maryland, the US, October 4 2020. Picture: REUTERS/CHERISS MAY
US President Donald Trump waves to supporters as he rides by in the presidential motorcade in front of the Walter Reed military medical centre in Bethesda, Maryland, the US, October 4 2020. Picture: REUTERS/CHERISS MAY

Just when one thought the circus around Donald Trump’s Covid-19 diagnosis was crazy, the US president outdid himself.

Many will remember the sad stories of Covid sufferers not being able to receive visitors at hospitals, with stories of people saying their goodbyes to friends and relatives via voice and video notes on their smartphones. In some cases where Covid was confirmed to have been the cause of death, relatives were not even allowed to attend the funerals of their loved ones.

No wonder the pictures of the US president’s drive-by visit to supporters outside the Walter Reed military medical centre, just a couple of days after being admitted for treatment related to his Covid-19 infection, elicited strong rebukes, including from a doctor who is physician at the institution where the president was being treated.

“Every single person in the vehicle during that completely unnecessary presidential ‘drive-by’ just now has to be quarantined for 14 days. They might get sick. They may die,” James Phillips, doctor of emergency medicine at George Washington University, was quoted as saying in a tweet by The Guardian newspaper, which reported that at least two other people were in the vehicle with Trump.

Before that there was controversy about when the president became aware of his illness, and whether he continued with official business even after learning of a positive test for one of his aides.

There is also controversy over a September 26 ceremony to announce Trump’s supreme court nominee to fill the seat vacated after the death of justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. At the White House Rose Garden event attendees were crammed together with few wearing facial masks. Reports from the US media indicate this may have turned out to be a super-spreader event.

Those confirmed to have been infected include Trump’s former adviser Kellyanne Conway, former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, who was one of Trump’s coaches ahead of his presidential debate last week with Democrat challenger, Joe Biden. Christie was quoted to have said that he and other participants in the debate preparation did not wear masks either.

According to a Reuters-Ipos poll released on Sunday, almost two-thirds of Americans think Trump could have avoided  contracting the virus if had taken it seriously, the clearest sign that his handling of the pandemic has not only been poor but might have worsened its severity.  

This all happens at a time when US Covid-19 cases approach 7.5-million with more than 200,000 deaths. A worse case of a failure in leadership, not just by Trump but by those around him, is hard to imagine. If nothing else, his aides had a duty to protect the president, even from himself, and they failed dismally.

It is a fast-moving story whose political implications are still far from clear, with the November presidential election — already set to be the most disputed in history — just a month away.

On Monday it was not clear how serious the president’s condition was. While the official line was that he was fighting the virus and could be back at the White House on Monday, it was also disclosed that he was being treated with a steroid that is normally used only in the most severe cases.    

For markets, which were rattled on the news of his illness on Friday, the coming days are expected to be volatile over the health of a president who is not averse to flouting his own government’s health guidelines during the pandemic.  

South African assets ended mixed on Monday, with the JSE all-share index, the broadest measure of SA’s stock market performance, following in the footsteps of higher global equity markets. The yield on the benchmark government bond was flat, while the rand reversed earlier gains to trade slightly weaker in the late afternoon session.  

With less than a month to ago until the November 3 election, anxiety levels in global markets are expected to remain elevated.

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