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Grading the Big Pandemic Test

Summary:
The results of the second European COVID-19 lockdown remain to be seen, but one thing is already clear. While Europe may wonder whether it was right not to follow Asia’s full pandemic-containment drive, it has no reason to regret having rejected America’s misguided strategy. PARIS – From the moment COVID-19 emerged as a global threat, it was clear that it would test every society’s strength, resilience, and response capabilities. Almost one year on, it is time to assess who passed the test, and who failed. America’s Political Crisis and the Way Forward PS OnPoint Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images Europe Must Stand Up

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The results of the second European COVID-19 lockdown remain to be seen, but one thing is already clear. While Europe may wonder whether it was right not to follow Asia’s full pandemic-containment drive, it has no reason to regret having rejected America’s misguided strategy.

PARIS – From the moment COVID-19 emerged as a global threat, it was clear that it would test every society’s strength, resilience, and response capabilities. Almost one year on, it is time to assess who passed the test, and who failed.

From a public-health standpoint, the answer is clear: East Asia – including Australia and New Zealand – passed the test with flying colors. As for the rest, Europe performed unevenly, the United States stumbled badly, and developing countries have struggled.

To be sure, luck played more than its part in explaining initially uneven performance. In Europe, Italy and Spain were hit extremely hard by the first wave, because the then-unknown coronavirus took root, unnoticed, until it erupted in full force. By contrast, Germany and Poland saw it coming and could take effective measures in time.

But while governments can ascribe unequal death tolls during the first wave to luck, the argument does not hold for the second wave. Policymakers cannot eschew responsibility for the uncontrolled spread of the pandemic in the US or its resurgence in Europe.

Two trade-offs dominate discussions on the policy response. The first one, between disease control and individual rights, is hard to avoid. Contact tracing and mandatory isolation are effective in combating the spread of the virus, but infringe on civil liberties. China clearly stands apart for its disregard of individual freedom, but Western societies would also find it hard to accept the intrusive tracing measures taken in South Korea or...

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