U.S. President Donald Trump proved once again this week that he possesses an uncanny ability to yank the mainstream media’s chain, when he expressed his desire to end the social-distancing measures employed to stop the spread of COVID-19 by Easter Sunday.
By now, you’d think the U.S. media would be more discerning in how it interprets the President’s comments on any given topic. Mr. Trump speaks through his hat like a used-car salesman, always overselling this or that aspect of his administration with over-the-top superlatives. He constantly evokes hypotheticals that would be political quicksand for any conventional politician. And nothing seems more hypothetical at this point than the suggestion that the United States will have conquered its growing coronavirus epidemic by mid-April.
So, that’s how I took the March 22 tweet, in which Mr. Trump insisted “we cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself.” I imagined him sitting in the White House last Sunday, growing more agitated by the second as commentators on U.S. cable news evoked the economic meltdown the U.S. is experiencing as it seeks to flatten the coronavirus curve.
For a man who measures his presidency in the ups (and lately downs) of the stock market, it must have been excruciating. Couple that with his disdain for the mainstream media and you just knew he was going to get mischievous. Besides, no one is better at distracting the media’s attention from the real news than Mr. Trump. Yawn, another Trump tempest in a teapot.
As with everything he says, you can’t hold him to it. The man has no compunction. But that is not the same thing as saying he acts rashly. To those who jumped to conclusions about his intentions regarding the lifting of social distancing in two weeks time, I’d say: “Take a pill.”
Speaking of drugs, Mr. Trump also jumped the gun by tweeting about an unproven remedy for COVID-19, hydroxychloroquine, as potentially being “one of the biggest game changers in the history of medicine.” That one did serious damage. It raised false hopes among some desperate people, who reportedly ingested the drug or products that contain it, with devastating consequences. It also undermined serious efforts to examine the drug’s potential.
It was natural for the U.S. government’s top infectious-diseases specialist, Anthony Fauci, to push back against Mr. Trump’s assertions about hydroxychloroquine and a molecularly similar drug, the anti-malarial treatment chloroquine, noting that evidence of their effectiveness in treating COVID-19 had been only “anecdotal.” Months-long clinical trials are still needed.
Still, it would be wrong to dismiss chloroquine’s potential as a COVID-19 treatment simply because Mr. Trump likes its odds. The article cited in touting the drug, published in the International Journal of Antimicrobial Agents, has sparked serious debate around the world. Its principal author, Didier Raoult of Aix-Marseille Université in France, has long challenged the medical establishment in his country. And he’s often been right.
Dr. Raoult’s non-peer-reviewed study, as well as preliminary research conducted in China, quickly prompted French authorities to approve clinical trials on the drug. French President Emmanuel Macron’s government also approved chloroquine as a treatment for severe COVID-19 cases in a hospital setting, under strict supervision by a group of doctors.
Nice Mayor Christian Estrosi, who said his COVID-19 symptoms all but disappeared after taking hydroxychloroquine in combination with the antibiotic drug azithromycin, as prescribed by Dr. Raoult, has called on Mr. Macron’s government to go much further.
“Chloroquine is perhaps one of the most prescribed drugs in the world,” Dr. Raoult said in a summary of his study, noting that it has been a staple anti-malarial treatment for European travellers to Africa, and Africans themselves, for decades. Until January, chloroquine was available over the counter in France. Hydroxychloroquine has been prescribed for years globally to treat autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.
“It is difficult to find a product that currently has a better-established safety profile than chloroquine,” Dr. Raoult’s study asserts. “Furthermore, its cost is negligible. Hence, its possible use both in prophylaxis in people exposed to the novel coronavirus and as a curative treatment will probably be promptly evaluated by our Chinese colleagues. If clinical data confirm the biological results, the novel coronavirus-associated disease will have become one of the simplest and cheapest to treat and prevent among infectious respiratory diseases.”
That remains a big if. Health Authorities in Canada should hold off approving chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine for broad use as a treatment against COVID-19, until proper clinical trials determine its effectiveness and prove it can be used safely. They should, however, consider allowing for their use on a compassionate basis now for the most severe COVID-19 cases.
The only downside is that, if it works, Mr. Trump will never let anyone forget it.
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