Coronavirus is teaching us a lesson

As the new coronavirus, known as COVID-19, continues to spread, it's exposing some uncomfortable truths about our increasingly interconnected and globalized world.

Here are two:

Fragile supply chains: Decades of fine-tuning global manufacturing have given billions of people access to quality consumer goods at affordable prices. That's the upside of globalization. But the same trend has concentrated production of important items in certain countries, creating new vulnerabilities. For example, regions of China and broader Asia that produce most of the world's smartphones have been forced to idle or cut manufacturing because of the outbreak. The decline in Chinese factory activity has been so pronounced, it's actually visible from space. And US officials recently warned of drug shortages due to the shuttering of factories in China that make essential ingredients for some important medicines.


Fragile safety nets: Well before the new virus emerged in China, an annual report by the World Health Organization warned that the chances of a global outbreak were rising and that the world was "not prepared for a fast-moving, virulent respiratory pathogen pandemic." It cited the usual problems – a lack of funding for public health monitoring and prevention, bureaucratic hurdles, and weak medical infrastructure, especially in poor and middle-income countries. But it also warned of "a breakdown in public trust…exacerbated by misinformation that can hinder disease control communicated quickly and widely via social media." In the US, the safety net is further weakened by a lack of mandatory paid sick leave, which some people fear will compel sick people to show up at work, where they can infect colleagues and customers.

It's no big mystery why the world works this way: Money doesn't grow on trees. Taxpayers worry about their wallets, companies worry about the bottom line, and politicians worry about voters or special interests. In normal times, no one has much appetite to fund big investments in public health or other preventive measures. No one wants to build extra factories in far-flung places, "just in case." What's more, reorienting our economic and political systems to be more resilient is a massive and long-term undertaking. As crises recede, it becomes hard to convince people or governments to make sacrifices for the long-run good. In a sense, the efficiency of our 21st century economies in normal times comes at the cost of resiliency in extreme circumstances.

Still, something's got to give. Coronavirus won't be the last global pandemic. And it's part of a bigger trend of looming cross-border challenges like climate change and cyberattacks that will also stress systems designed for simpler times, as severe weather and threats to critical infrastructure grow more frequent. Finding the political will and the money to build stronger, more resilient systems won't be easy, but what will it take to convince a critical mass of voters and leaders that it's essential?

Brazil's governors take on Bolsonaro: We've previously written about the tensions between local and national governments over coronavirus response, but few places have had it as bad as Brazil. As COVID-19 infections surged in Brazil, the country's governors quickly mobilized – often with scarce resources – to enforce citywide lockdowns. Brazil's gangs have even risen to the occasion, enforcing strict curfews to limit the virus' spread in Rio de Janeiro. But Brazil's president, Jair Bolsonaro, has mocked the seriousness of the disease and urged states to loosen quarantines in order to get the economy up and running again. "Put the people to work," he said this week, "Preserve the elderly; preserve those who have health problems. But nothing more than that." In response, governors around the country – including some of his allies – issued a joint letter to the president, begging him to listen to health experts and help states contain the virus. The governor of Sao Paulo, Brazil's economic powerhouse, has even threatened to sue the federal government if Bolsonaro continues to undermine his efforts to combat the virus' spread.

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Governments of the developed world are finally responding with due sense of urgency, individually in 3 different ways.

1st, stand health care systems up so they won't get overwhelmed (late responses). The private & public sector together, building additional ICU beds, supply capacity and production of medical equipment and surge medical personnel in the US, Canada, across Europe & the UK. Unclear if we avoid a Northern Italy scenario. A couple days ago, Dr. Fauci from the NIH said he was hopeful. Epidemiologists and critical care doctors don't feel comfortable. Not in New York, Chicago, LA, Boston, Philadelphia, New Orleans. In Europe, particularly London, Madrid, Catalonia, Barcelona, might be significantly short.

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The major outbreaks of coronavirus in China, Europe, and the United States have garnered the most Western media attention in recent weeks. Yesterday, we went behind the headlines to see how Mexico and Russia are faring. Today, we'll look at three other potential hotspots where authorities and citizens are now contending with the worst global pandemic in a century.

Start with India. For weeks, coronavirus questions hovered above that other country with a billion-plus people, a famously chaotic democracy where the central government can't simply order a Chinese-scale public lockdown with confidence that it will be respected. It's a country where 90 percent of people work off the books— without a minimum wage, a pension, a strong national healthcare system, or a way to work from home.

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In the end, it took the coronavirus to break the year-long deadlock in Israeli politics. Prime Minister Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu will still face corruption charges, but he has yet another new lease on political life, as he and political rival Benny Gantz cut a deal yesterday: Bibi will continue as prime minister, with Gantz serving as Speaker of the Knesset, Israel's parliament. After 18 months, Gantz will take over as prime minister, but many doubt that will ever happen.

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