The pandemic in the US
The world’s most powerful country is brought to a halt
A month ago, media platforms broadly aligned with United States (US) President Donald Trump termed the coronavirus a “hoax”. Just a week ago, Mr Trump was tempted to ease restrictions and was arguing for restoring economic activity by Easter (April 12). But if the surge in cases, and the extent of the spread in cities such as New York, had not made the dangers of the pandemic clear to the administration, projections put forward by scientists appears to have finally done so this week. Anthony Fauci, the top infectious diseases expert in the US, and Deborah Birx, who is coordinating the coronavirus response for the White House, told Mr Trump that the country could see anywhere between 100,000 to 240,000 deaths due to the virus. Mr Trump subsequently extended restrictions, and warned Americans that a painful two weeks lie ahead.
The crisis in the US is illustrative. For one, the pandemic has brought forth the fragility of power as conventionally calculated. The US has resources, research capacity, infrastructure, talent and health care systems — yet Covid-19 has crippled the country, just as it shook the foundations of China, and has now destabilised Europe. While there has been a growing inward turn in the US over the past decade, expect this crisis to see it retreat even more, as it focuses on domestic reconstruction. Two, the crisis also shows the importance of leadership. It is clear that the president, who seems to care little for science or expertise, was reckless in not taking the threat seriously. Delays in imposing restrictions, slow testing, and the failure to ramp up the health system have contributed to the spread of the infection. While it is not clear how this will play out in the election scheduled for later this year — if the election takes place at all on time — the impact of weak leadership in an emergency is obvious.
Three, the US appears to be facing the same constraints as many other countries at the moment, which once again shows the global nature of the challenge — from the shortages of personal protective equipment for health workers and ventilators for patients to a halt on economic activity and unprecedented unemployment. Hope for the US lies in the fact that it has the best science infrastructure in the world, which makes it likely that an eventual vaccine will emerge in the country; a resilient private sector and spirit of entrepreneurship, which will help in the recovery; and global economic and strategic dominance, which will allow it to leverage the international system. But the crisis has underlined that no one is, quite literally, immune.