Hollywood actor Sean Penn spoke to CNN on Thursday night to share his expertise theories on how the United States military could stop the spread of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, in an interview that sparked anger and mockery online.
The actor and activist told CNN’s Anderson Cooper and Dr. Sanjay Gupta — a real doctor — that the U.S. military should be deployed domestically to take control of the situation.
“I wouldn’t blink before I would put the command and control in their hands a month ago, certainly today,” Penn said during the interview.
“There is no greater humanitarian force on the planet than the United States military.”
Penn spoke from his activist experience in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake that devastated the country. Penn founded the J/P Haitian Relief Organization to help with Haiti’s recovery, and the organization worked alongside the U.S. military during the crisis.
“There it was a non-fighting mission as it would be here, with the exception of the virus that we’re all fighting as one species against,” Penn said.
Penn has no medical background, although he did play a 19th-century doctor in a movie last year. He has never served in the military.
“Clearly what we have to do and what the military does so well, in terms of co-ordination, co-ordinating with health professionals, co-ordinating with hospitals, building hospitals — they can build a hospital in 25 minutes,” he said, in the middle of a scattered discussion of the military’s capabilities.
Penn recommended a “full deployment” of the U.S. military within the United States and downplayed concern that such a move would turn the country into a police state.
“There can be no argument about, ‘Oh, it’s going to become a police state’ and so on,” he said. “These people understand America and what it’s about.”
Social media users were quick to pounce on Penn’s CNN interview, mocking it as “incoherent” and ridiculing the network for turning to an actor for his advice.
“WWSPD?” one person tweeted. “What would Sean Penn do?”
“I’ve been saying it for days, get Sean Penn on this,” another person wrote.
“If anybody knows what to do in a pandemic, it’s definitely this guy,” one tongue-in-cheek Reddit user said.
The actor has repeatedly drawn criticism over the years for some of his activist efforts.
He also attempted to blend his activism with journalism by visiting Iraq after the U.S. invasion in 2005.
Penn says his charity, the CORE Foundation, is helping to distribute food in Georgia. He is also expecting to “co-ordinate” with California Gov. Gavin Newsom on the state’s coronavirus response.
Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:
Health officials say the risk is low for Canadians but warn this could change quickly. They caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are asked to self-isolate for 14 days in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others.
Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.
To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. And if you get sick, stay at home.
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