The administration's response to the surge of COVID-19 in China, including waiting until Jan. 5 to mandate tests for anyone coming into the United States from there, along with the lack of monoclonal antibodies that are effective against new variants of the disease, shows that "we're still not ready for pandemics in this country," Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House COVID-19 response coordinator under former President Donald Trump, said on Newsmax Thursday.
"I'm glad we're testing rather than just relying on symptoms, which we did three years ago, but this testing should have started weeks ago," Birx told Newsmax's "Wake Up America." "In order for the hospitals to be overwhelmed like we are seeing in China, it means that they've had widespread community spread for weeks. The No. 1 tenet in pandemic response is to act early, and so we're once again acting late."
Birx added that Chinese New Year, which precipitated the vast global spread of COVID-19 three years ago, is approaching, and "we're reacting late."
"For all the money we've spent on pandemic preparedness, for all of the planning, we still don't respond, and that's the key piece is detection," said Birx. "You have to respond, and we're still responding extraordinarily late like we did with monkeypox. I'm worried that we just don't have a sense of urgency when we see these global things happening."
Wednesday, U.S. health officials said the United States will impose the mandatory tests after Beijing's decision to lift the country's zero-COVID policies, requiring that a negative test be taken no more than two days' departure from China, Hong Kong, or Macao.
But Birx told Newsmax that the two-day guideline is not enough, as passengers should also be tested upon landing in the United States.
"We know with these highly transmittable variants that we are seeing for the last year, that having a negative test two days ago does not mean anything," she said. "We're telling Americans before they go and spend time with their vulnerable relatives to test right before going. We should be testing upon arrival and everybody who's positive on arrival, we not only have to tell them to isolate, but we need to find what their sequences are that they're carrying into the country."
The Chinese population is particularly vulnerable now not because of lockdowns, but because of a lack of immunizations among elderly people, Birx added.
"We know clearly three years in who is vulnerable to severe disease and that's why I was very careful to say testing is relevant before you go and visit your vulnerable relatives," she said.
Meanwhile, the monoclonal antibodies that are effective against new variants are no longer available, and immunosuppressed Americans who don't develop a good immune response to a vaccine aren't protected, said Birx.
"We don't have the same number of tools that we had even a year ago," she added.
Birx said it's important that people keep taking steps to protect the vulnerable members of their family, but that people must also realize that the current issues concerning China and COVID-19 mark the "third time" that "they've not been transparent."
"They weren't transparent with SARS in 2003; they weren't transparent at the beginning of this pandemic; and they haven't been transparent now," said Birx. "I think it's very telling that the reason they say that there shouldn't be any restrictions or any testing is because they have it under control.
"That tells me that the reason they weren't transparent three years ago was because they believed that they had it under control. That's not a country's decision when the whole globe is at risk."
Birx also noted that because China has not had as many waves of COVID-19 infection as the United States, its people have less natural infection immunity from the disease.
"We don't know who was vaccinated or how protective that vaccine was," said Birx. "What creates variants is previous infection, and so in a way, we're flying blind.
"They may actually have old variants rather than the new variants we're seeing now, and that's why it's really important that any Chinese national that comes to the country and is hospitalized, we need to sequence those variants so that we know what's circulating."
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