On Sunday night, John Oliver had a stripped-down version of Last Week Tonight. Like many talk shows, he has opted to not have a studio audience during the coronavirus pandemic.
“This isn’t going to be our usual show,” he said on a stark white set, admitting that where they usually tape had confirmed cases of coronavirus so they moved to another set with a limited crew.
He started by saying, “This was the week that the coronavirus, for many people in the U.S. seemed to go from an abstraction to a very real threat.”
He said he seemed to start with Utah Jazz player Rudy Gobert jokingly saying he was sick before a game and then touching every microphone and recorder at a press conference. It was later learned that he tested positive for coronavirus and his team is now under quarantine in Oklahoma City for the foreseeable future.
Oliver joked that Gobert’s actions were “stupid enough” compared to the White House, which reported the first snow when it really didn’t happen.
From here, he began to break down the week in coronavirus including major sports events being suspended as well as Rita Wilson and Tom Hanks and numerous political figures testing positive for COVID-19. “We are clearly in the midst of a rapidly escalating outbreak,” he points out. “It’s difficult to say where things stand.”
He then began his unpacking of Donald Trump’s handling of the outbreak. “Despite what Trump says, tests are not available in most places to those who need them,” he said. “Which means we cant properly track the virus or know how quickly it is spreading. That’s not only catastrophic because we are having to fly blind in fighting this pandemic, it’s also deeply frustrating especially when you see how countries like South Korea ramped up their testing capabilities.”
He cut to a clip of leading infectious disease expert Anthony S. Fauci saying that our system of testing “is not geared to what we need right now.” Then Oliver called Trump’s “sedated” Oval Office speech about the pandemic a “complete mess” — mainly because of all the lies he told: “He managed to mistakenly claim that imports from Europe were being cut off which they were not; that insurers would waive copays not just for testing but for treatment which at present, they wont; and seem to imply that Americans in Europe could not get back into the country, which they can.”
He then threw it to a clip of Trump doing what he does best: minimizing the impact of the crisis as he said the stock market was “just fine”.
“Nothing is fine here,” Oliver said. “The president’s response has sadly been characterized by disorganization and lies.” He continued to unpack Trump’s lies from his Rose Garden press conference on Friday where he called the pandemic a National Emergency — which was good, but as Oliver said, “there was a lot there that was pretty concerning.”
In particular, he shook hands leisurely with many and touched the microphone numerous times after interacting with people who were exposed to people who tested positive for coronavirus while at Mar-a-lago.
Then, when a reporter asked him about disbanding the White House pandemic office, he avoided the question and basically insulted the reporter saying, “That’s a nasty question. I didn’t do it. I don’t know anything about it.”
Oliver responded to that with: “That is a level of dodging responsibility that Trump has been perfecting ever since he was not in Vietnam.”
Trump also said that Google is building a website that will drive people to testing facilities and Google immediately clarified saying that they are in the early stages of development on the site and they are going to roll out in the Bay Area with the hope of expanding more broadly over time.
This is where Oliver gets truly sincere. “This is frustrating and extremely unnerving and it is actively contributing to a sense of confusion in the coutry, he said. “It may be best to put the president aside — don’t worry, there is going to be ample time to be utterly furious with him later — but the fact is, even though this should not be the case, it seems we’re going to be a little bit on our own here and because of that, it might be worth going over some basic rules that health experts say we should all absolutely be following to help stem this outbreak.”
He gave some levity to the madness by playing a Tik Tok video of a little hamster giving some tips about preventing the spread of coronavirus: washing hands, coughing into a tissue, wearing masks only if you have symptoms, staying home if sick and social distancing.
“Tik Tok hamster is my favorite thing in the world,” Oliver gushed. “It is truly sad that a hamster just genuinely offered more useful public health advice in one 12 second Tik Tok than the president has in multiple addresses to the nation.”
Oliver talked about the importance of “flattening the curve” saying that it will slow the spread of the virus without overwhelming the healthcare system. He added that we must help and look out for healthcare workers and those who are most susceptible. Also important is to stop the spread of misinformation.
He said there’s a lot of “harmful busllshit” out there like Alex Jones’s anti-coronavirus toothpaste, commentators comparing coronavirus to the swine flu and Geraldo Rivera ridiculously saying that if you can hold your breath for 10 seconds you don’t coronavirus.
“There is a ton of misinformation out there… so please be careful before forwarding or retweeting stuff that you do not know to be true,” Oliver said. “Our personal actions are really going to count here.”
He continued, “Even if you’re not worried about getting this virus other people, especially the elderly and immunosuppressed simply don’t have that luxury so it’s a good idea to treat these precautions like you would the flu shot — you don’t get the flu shot just for you. You get it for everyone else. We all have a real responsibility to one other right now because the choices we make will contribute directly to how bad this crisis gets.”
As a treat to his viewers, he put a 30-second countdown clock and gave them an opportunity to vent their frustrations about the coronavirus out loud. For Oliver, it was the Liverpool Football Club and how the Premier League has suspended all fixtures until April 4.
He ended on a hopeful note and a sense of community. “I know things are currently very scary things are going to be weird for while….the fact that that is true makes it even more important that going forward we’re going to need to look out for one another — and not just in terms of containing the transmission of this virus — but in terms the economic impact this is going to have on those who will not be able to weather it.”
Oliver adds that this will be an unsettling, isolating and lonely time and urged people to call and reach out to those who are vulnerable or feel isolated. He also suggested to donating to a local food bank (some can be found feedingamerica.org).
“Try your best to tune out and not pass on misinformation in the upcoming weeks from sources like, sadly, the president,” he said. “Pay more attention to trustworthy information from the CDC, experts like Anthony Fauci and of course, Tik Tok hamsters.”
This will mark the last episode of Last Week Tonight for a while and Oliver said that they will be back in some form in the near future. He urged for people to take care of themselves and each other before signing off and saying, “Stay safe and good night.”
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