America and Britain are big losers on world stage as they fail to control Covid

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Source: The Independent

Lockdowns are unnecessary if the use of masks is practiced by 95 per cent of the population, says Dr Hans Kluge, the World Health Organisation’s European chief. This is good to know, though it is a pity that the WHO did not make the point more forcefully in March as the pandemic was exploding across Europe and the world.

The necessity for face masks had been expressed at the time, but the advice to use them came from a source that European and American leaders dismissed as politically unacceptable. As Britain and other European states were going into lockdown, Dr George Gao, director-general of the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention – the main Chinese public health body – was asked in an interview on 27 March about what he believed were the mistakes being made by other countries trying to control the epidemic. He replied that “the big mistake in the US and Europe, in my opinion, is that people aren’t wearing masks”.

His opinion should have been taken seriously since China, notwithstanding the suppression of the Uighurs and democracy in Hong Kong, along with other east Asian countries, were succeeding in bringing the coronavirus epidemic under control. But instead of drawing on this experience, the new cold war against China ensured that any positive news from there was ignored, disbelieved or derided. China’s initial concealment of the epidemic was highlighted, and its success in containing it was disregarded. When China’s return to normality was mentioned, it was attributed to autocratic rule that could not and should not be emulated elsewhere. In point of fact, the Chinese achievement resulted largely from old-fashioned public health measures, with a heavy emphasis on test-and-trace and travel bans, pursued with great energy and with the mobilisation of vast resources.

Refusal to learn from a successful campaign against the coronavirus because it was carried out by a political rival was self-destructive for Europe and the US, but their response should not have been unexpected. Before the pandemic, we were already living in a deglobalising world where individual nation states jostle to enhance their power. Rule-based international institutions and coalitions from the WHO and WTO to the EU and NATO were ebbing in influence. The epidemic has only flood-lit the fact that re-energised nationalism is the spirit of the age from America to the Philippines and from China to Brazil.

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