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The high-stakes fight against coronavirus

The high-stakes fight against coronavirus

As anxiety about the coronavirus outbreak continues to mount, it's worth taking a step back and looking at how different countries have handled this global health emergency. Here's a quick roundup:

China bungled its early response to the new and deadly virus when it first emerged in the city of Wuhan in December. It's only just now starting to get things back under control after a severe crackdown that imposed huge economic and social costs on its 1.4 billion-strong population. Contrast China's aggressive and apparently effective measures with those of Iran, where an authoritarian government exacerbated its early mistakes by refusing to cordon off infected areas and – allegedly – covering up the true number of cases, resulting in a sharply climbing death toll.


Asian democracies with strong central governments and competent, technocratic bureaucracies have fared relatively well during the outbreak. To date, Taiwan has managed to keep the outbreak to a few dozen cases by steadily expanding tests, travel restrictions, and quarantines as the scope of the emergency became clearer in January and February. Singapore has managed a similarly effective response – a necessity given its proximity and economic ties with the Chinese mainland. South Korea was hit hard early on, but appears to have avoided the need for a China-style crackdown by rapidly expanding testing and mobilizing its strong pandemic preparedness resources. Other countries are now looking to replicate these efforts.

Italy was caught off-guard by how quickly the virus spread across its northern industrial heartland. A few weeks ago, it had just a handful of cases. Now it has the highest reported death toll of any country outside of China. This week, the government launched the most aggressive crackdown so far of any Western democracy, including sharp restrictions on travel and banning public gatherings. (Still, that falls short of the "wartime" conditions imposed in Wuhan, where residents were subject to door-to-door health checks and sick people were herded into quarantine camps). Meanwhile, cases in France, Spain, and Germany are growing fast. More aggressive measures to slow the spread of the disease in these countries may also become increasingly likely in coming days.

Then there's the US. Although the Trump administration imposed restrictions on travel to and from China and Iran by early February, the broader US response has been hampered by a lack of access to testing kits (which the administration initially refused to accept from the WHO) and muddled (to put it kindly) messaging from the White House. On Monday, a former national security official who used to head pandemic preparedness at the White House before his position was cut in 2018 warned that time was running out for authorities to get the outbreak under control.

Bottom line: Governments that missed their initial chance to contain the threat can still make up lost ground – but at a heavy cost. In both cases, competent authorities and solid public health strategies are only part of the solution. The other big variable is whether citizens themselves support governments and work with them – as seems to be the case in many of the Asian countries – or disregard and distrust them. With the virus bearing down on a widening swathe of Europe and the United States, we will soon find out a lot more about how well the Western democracies cope with this challenge.

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Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:

With the transition of power formally beginning now, what can we expect between now and inauguration day?

Well, there's a couple of important deadlines between now and Inauguration Day. The first is the December 14th meeting of the Electoral College, which will make the state certifications official and will make Joe Biden officially president-elect in the eyes of the US government. Another really important date is going to be January 5th, which is when Georgia has its runoff for the two Senate seats that will determine majority control in the Senate. If the Republicans win one of those seats, they'll maintain their majority, although very slim. If the Democrats win both of the seats, they'll have a 50/50 Senate with Kamala Harris as the tie-breaking vote and slightly more ability to enact Joe Biden's agenda next year. Also, between now and Inauguration Day, we're going to see Joe Biden announce his cabinet and senior staff. Most of whom will probably get confirmed fairly easily early, earlier ... Excuse me, later in January or early in February. And of course, we're going to see what President Trump is going to do next. I think that it's still a little bit up in the air what his post-presidency plans are. He has yet to concede the election. So, anything is possible from him, including a lot of new executive orders that could try to box Biden in and limit his options when it comes to economic policy, foreign policy, and social policy.

What can we expect out of the Biden administration's first 100 days?

Well, the biggest priority of the Biden administration first is going to be to confirm all of their cabinet appointees, and that should be pretty easy at the cabinet head level for the most part, even with a Republican controlled Senate. It's going to be a little more difficult once you get below the cabinet head, because then you're going to start to see some more ideological tests and some more policy concerns be flushed out by Republicans in the Senate. The second thing you're going to see is Biden start to undo as much of the Trump legacy as he can, and his primary vehicle for doing this is going to be executive orders, which is a lot of what president Trump used in order to enact policy. Expect Biden to reenter the Paris Climate Accord on day one and expect him to start undoing things like Trump's immigration orders and perhaps reversing some of his decisions on trade. Yet to be determined is if Congress is going to have fully funded the government for the entire year in December in the lame-duck session, and if they haven't, Biden's going to have to work out a deal probably in March or so to do that.

Joe Biden is well known as the kind of guy who will talk your ear off, whether you're a head of state or an Average Joe on the campaign trail. But Evan Osnos, New Yorker staff writer and author of "Joe Biden: The Life, The Run and What Matters Now," thinks that reputation may be outdated. "Here he is in his eighth decade when a lot of people are, frankly, in more of a broadcasting mode than a listening mode, he's actually become a more attentive listener." Despite one of the longest political careers in modern American history, there remains more to Joe Biden than may meet the eye. Osnos spoke with Ian Bremmer on GZERO World.

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