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New Ambassador to the United States Addresses Impact of COVID-19 in the United KingdomExBulletin


Mary Louise Kelly of NPR chats with Karen Pierce, the new British Ambassador to the United States, about the impact of COVID-19 in the United Kingdom, including the positive diagnosis of Prime Minister Boris Johnson.


The new British ambassador to Washington is among those caught in President Trump’s new restrictions on coronaviruses against travelers from Europe. Dame Karen Pierce flew from London to Washington earlier this month to take up her new role. Due to travel restrictions, she spends her first 14 days here in compulsory self-quarantine in the residence of the British Ambassador, from where she joins us now.

Ambassador, welcome to the United States. Welcome to Washington. Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

KAREN PIERCE: Thank you very much. It’s nice to be here.

KELLY: Could you start by just describing how it went when you landed? I assume you were tested for the virus when you arrived at the airport.

PIERCE: Well, I went through CDC, along with all the other passengers. And then I got a car to take me to the British Embassy, ​​which is on Massachusetts Avenue. The Ambassador’s residence is right next door, so that’s where I live. And I have been working at the library of this residence since March 19. So my quarantine period ends soon.

KELLY: End soon – yeah, I was going to ask. So it looks like you’ve almost gone through the two weeks. Is it correct?

PIERCE: It’s true. I can go out tomorrow night.

KELLY: Let me ask you about global leadership. The United States has always led global responses to global crises. Of course, the UK also played this role. Do you see one of our countries playing this role today in this coronavirus crisis?

PIERCE: I think it’s fair to say that the corona crisis did not have the same type of rapid and coordinated international response that, say, we saw in the 2008 financial crisis. But that said, the US government for the G7 and the Saudi government for the G20 succeeded in bringing together leaders and ministers of health, finance ministers and foreign ministers to work on a coordinated set of actions, all to keep the economy world on the move. step up work on vaccines, to help the UN and in particular the World Health Organization get detailed help where it needs to go, and also work on repatriation.

KELLY: I want to ask about British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has a confirmed case of coronavirus, as does Minister of Health Matt Hancock, as well as the heir to the throne, Prince Charles. Should Britain, in hindsight, have acted faster and more forcefully to try to contain the virus?

PIERCE: I think what the government is trying to do at all times is to act on scientific advice. We have a special group of scientists called SAGE whose job it is to come together in crises like this and advise the government. And the government then reaches its point of view based on their recommendations.

When we saw that the virus was growing exponentially – and a very important study was done by Imperial College in London on this – scientific advice changed and the government took a much stricter approach to distancing social and outings. And the schools were closed. And that’s the situation we have right now.

KELLY: Although you want to act according to scientific guidelines, I’m thinking of a day earlier this month, March 3. WHO, the World Health Organization, has already issued warnings about people – don’t shake hands. And Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, was quoted in the minutes saying: I shake my hand continuously. I was in the hospital the other night where there were a few patients with coronavirus. I shook hands with everyone.

PIERCE: Well, the WHO publishes the guidelines it issues, then the countries examine them and adapt them to their national situation. I did not see the photos of the Prime Minister shaking hands, but I think he wanted to let these patients know that we were on their side, that he was on their side, that we thought of them, that we did not want them to be stigmatized if they had been infected with the virus. And I think the Prime Minister was trying to create a spirit of, let’s get through this.

KELLY: Exactly – is probably at home, convalescing and not shaking hands yet.

PIERCE: Well, it certainly is – at No. 10 Downing Street, which is the Prime Minister’s official residence, there is an apartment at the top. It also works – there are two houses together. The first is where our Chancellor, our equivalent to the Secretary of the Treasury, has his official residence. And there is an apartment. The Prime Minister is there. It’s my house. But the Prime Minister always participates in the meetings and helps to deal with the crisis.

And then our foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, my boss – he’s our first secretary of state. He therefore intervenes on occasions when the Prime Minister is unable to do so. So we are still operational.

KELLY: This is Dame Karen Pierce, British ambassador to the United States this month.

Ambassador, thank you very much.

PIERCE: Thank you.

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