Seven days before Donald Trump took office, his aides faced a major test: the rapid, global spread of a dangerous virus in cities like London and Seoul, one serious enough that some countries were imposing travel bans.
In a sober briefing, Trump’s incoming team learned that the disease was an emerging pandemic — a strain of novel influenza known as H9N2 — and that health systems were crashing in Asia, overwhelmed by the demand.
“Health officials warn that this could become the worst influenza pandemic since 1918,” Trump’s aides were told. Soon, they heard cases were popping up in California and Texas.
The briefing was intended to hammer home a new, terrifying reality facing the Trump administration, and the incoming president’s responsibility to protect Americans amid a crisis. But unlike the coronavirus pandemic currently ravaging the globe, this 2017 crisis didn’t really happen — it was among a handful of scenarios presented to Trump’s top aides as part of a legally required transition exercise with members of the outgoing administration of Barack Obama.
And in the words of several attendees, the atmosphere was “weird” at best, chilly at worst.
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