In an interview Thursday, commerce chief Wilbur Ross saw a silver lining in the quickly spreading coronavirus. While saying he didn't "want to talk about a victory lap over a very unfortunate, very malignant disease," Ross nonetheless said he thought it would help the US by convincing wary employers to shift production here from China. Ross' own department later echoed the sentiment: "As Secretary Ross made clear the first step is to bring the virus under control and help the victims of this disease," said a spokesperson, per the BBC. "It is also important to consider the ramifications of doing business with a country that has a long history of covering up real risks to its own people and the rest of the world." But Ross is taking plenty of criticism, including from health officials who say his comments could encourage under-reporting:
- "With this kind of new disease, you want as much openness as you can," said Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, per the Washington Post. "If you suppress that openness, which this will do, then you absolutely make it worse and more people will get sick, and more people will die."
- His comments "rest on a misunderstanding of how infectious diseases are transmitted," said Sandro Galea, dean of the School of Public Health at Boston University. "Public officials have to communicate in an informed manner that educates the public and moves us towards an understanding of what actually generates help," Galea said. "A comment like this achieves the exact opposite purpose."
- As for the business angle, Simon Baptist of the Economic Intelligence Unit though the comments were "weird." He elaborates: "Companies are not going to make serious and long-term investment decisions on the basis of an outbreak of a disease that might last three to six months."
(The State Department is warning Americans
not to travel to China.)