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NEWS-SENTINEL EDITORIAL: Coronavirus focus has to remain on present, for now

Rep. Jim Banks, R-3rd, stated last week the United States should force China to “pay the burden and the costs incurred” by the U.S. due to the coronavirus that originated in Wuhan, the capital city of the Hubei province in that country.

Banks may be right, but we don’t think now is the right time to press this issue when our country is in the middle of figuring out how to deal with the pandemic.

The virus had infected more than 250,000 people worldwide by the end of last week, including more than 12,000 in the U.S., including two in Allen County. The Indiana lawmaker said during an appearance on FOX News’ “Tucker Carlson Tonight” Monday that the U.S. should place the financial burden caused by the COVID-19 coronavirus on China and suggested ways to do that.

Host Tucker Carlson began that part of his show by saying, “The Coronavirus is a Chinese virus no matter what they are telling you. It originated in China and was able to spread to the rest of the world because the Chinese government hid the truth of what was happening early in the outbreak from the rest of the world.”

He then brought in Banks to talk about whether Congress and President Trump should hold the Chinese government accountable for its failure to address and contain the threat. Banks said if the Chinese would forgive some of the U.S. debt, it would be a big step in repaying Americans.

Banks said the president could place tariffs on China and put those funds into a coronavirus victim relief fund “to pay the cost incurred on Americans and American taxpayers due to the negligence on China’s behalf that has led to the crisis in America today.

“I have no doubt that President Trump will do everything he can to hold China accountable for what they have caused on Americans today,” Banks said.

Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, also a Republican, has also joined a chorus of politicians who want to “punish” China for the virus. “We will emerge stronger from this challenge, we will hold accountable those who inflicted it on the world,” he said last week.

President Trump responded to Cotton’s comments by saying, “I don’t know if you’d say China is to blame. Certainly we didn’t get an early run on it (the coronavirus). It would’ve been helpful if we knew about it earlier.”

While others in Washington may share Banks’ opinion of China due to its failures in managing the virus, an article in Politico says some officials maintain we should not be “kicking China while it’s down” and that now is, rather, a good time to build trust with a “country whose cooperation [we] will need to tackle future transnational challenges, including pandemics.”

“A lot of these emotional and punishment policies will over time come back to bite us,” said Paul Haenle, a former National Security Council official who dealt with China under the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations, according to Politico.

There will come a time to focus on how we got here and preventing it from happening again. But for now, we believe there are far more urgent matters relating to the COVID-19 pandemic than blame and punishment, whether toward China or our own government. Dealing with those issues — what we need to do next, what our hospitals need, how to manage a nation’s children not in school, how to keep our economy afloat, to name a few — need focused attention from our leaders as well as our citizens.