Many Western governments ill-equipped to handle coronavirus

By Song Luzheng Source:Global Times Published: 2020/3/15 18:23:40

Italian soldiers with face masks are on duty at Milan Central Railway Station in Milan, Italy, on March 9, 2020. Measures to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus will be extended to the entire country in the next hours, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced late on Monday. (Photo by Daniele Mascolo/Xinhua)

The outbreak of the novel coronavirus has become an acid test of political system and governance capability among many countries.

China has generally brought the situation under control. Bruce Aylward, leader of the WHO team that visited China, said in late February that China's response is "the only successful measures we know so far to contain COVID-19." The Lancet, one of the world's most prestigious general medical journals, said "China seems to have avoided a substantial number of cases and fatalities," and has called on other countries to "learn from China's experience."

In the face of the iron-clad statements, some Western politicians and media outlets still criticize China's measures. Such a choice of them, however, failed to prevent the virus from rapidly spreading in their countries. 

Many Western countries hit by the coronavirus are facing shortages of medical supplies, and some medical staff have been infected by the virus. The US even failed to equip itself with sufficient and reliable test kits during the initial outbreak.

Considering China's efforts and WHO's warnings, which gave the world more than a month for preparedness, why has the West still failed to prevent the epidemic? Ultimately, it's a result of their governance systems.

Politics, capital and the public are three forces essential to any country's governance system. In the West, politics is subjected to the other two forces. To win votes, politicians have to please the powers that control both the capital and the public. Therefore, the West cannot have a government that is as powerful as China's. As of March 1, a total of 344 medical teams with more than 42,000 medical workers have been dispatched to Central China's Hubei Province. Western political systems lack such an ability to mobilize and organize on such a massive scale.

Despite the ever increasing threat from the coronavirus, some unbelievable phenomena have taken place: A French media outlet quoted a medical expert who said that hindering economic development is more harmful than the coronavirus; an Italian politician traveled to Milan to meet and greet young people to show the situation was not dangerous.

Even when some Western governments took tough measures, many Westerners simply did not care. When the number of confirmed cases rose to 100 in France, the French government canceled the Paris half marathon, but some French people still ran spontaneously. When the epidemic broke out in Italy, more than 3,000 Italian fans traveled to France to watch a football match. 

To contain the coronavirus and save people's lives, Western governments need to pay huge economic costs and the public needs to sacrifice some of their personal interests and cooperate actively. Under the Western governance systems, China's way to tackle the virus can't be copied by the West. 

Another problem is that the central government in the West has no hard binding force on local officials. Even if a central government takes measures, it cannot hold local officials accountable if they do not cooperate.

After a fire destroyed the Notre Dame Cathedral Paris in April 2019, the Council of Ministers, the main executive organ of the French government, had no right to call the mayor of Paris, who is elected in municipal election rather than appointed, to account.

As an important part of Western political systems, civil society is strong and ensures the functioning of the systems. But during the crisis brought by the coronavirus, the West's civil society has added fuel to the fire. 

Gatherings of independent religious groups in South Korea and France triggered clusters of cases. Although all gatherings of more than 1,000 have been banned in France, tens of thousands of people took to the streets on International Women's Day when protesters appealed for gender equality. 

Some Western media outlets have realized the problems in their countries. Le Figaro said in an article that it is difficult for France to learn from China's model, under which people accept the policies of their government.

It is the system that determines that epidemic prevention won't be an easy task for the West. This is why pessimistic forecasts prevail in the West. German experts believed up to 70 percent of the country's population will be infected. An expert in the US estimated that 96 million American people will be infected. 

The author is a scholar residing in France and a research fellow at the China Institute of Fudan University in Shanghai. 

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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