Newt Gingrich spends much of his time these days in Italy — the current epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic — since his wife was named by President Donald Trump as U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See in 2017. Writing from Vatican City, the former House Speaker says the president's efforts have saved thousands of lives, but he has a dire warning for the American people: "America must act now and act big."
The coronavirus is 'out of control' in northern Italy
In a widely circulated column in Newsweek, Gingrich described the coronavirus as "out of control in northern Italy" and explained the horrifying impact the disease is having on the country's public health system:
Because the demand for respirators and intensive care has been beyond any previous planning, doctors have been forced into the kind of triage thinking developed for intense battlefield casualty situations. There are reports that emergency room doctors are allotting respirators to those with higher life expectancy due to the limited equipment in the hardest hit areas of the province. If you are older or have other illnesses, you may simply not be eligible for treatment.
If it were not for Trump's measures, we'd be looking at 5,400 deaths instead of 41
Gingrich also praised the Trump administration's efforts to combat the illness:
President Donald Trump was right to cut off travel from China as soon as it was clear how big the pandemic was going to be. He saved American lives and bought time for America to be more prepared as the pandemic developed.
When you realize that the current 1,016 deaths in Italy with a population of 60 million would be the equivalent of 5,400 deaths in the United States instead of the 41 deaths we have had so far, you can see what milder, slower and less aggressive responses might have cost in lives. Then we would have needed to move to truly draconian measures of isolation and shutdowns.
We need a World War II-type mobilization, he says
However, Gingrich said war-time-like efforts may be needed to prevent similar devastation in the U.S.:
While Trump's decisive actions have bought us time, it is important to recognize that we must use that time to think through the health threat in every component and react accordingly.
We should be planning for a worst-case pandemic and using the kind of intensity of implementation which served us so well in World War II. Getting enough ventilators, masks, intensive care units, treatment medications and aggressive community-wide testing are the minimum steps to saving lives and stopping the pandemic.
While U.S. policy-makers are right to be concerned about the economic impacts of domestic restrictions, the lesson of Italy, Gingrich concluded, is that "the sooner you act, the fewer lives you will lose and the less damage you will do to your economy."