NEW YORK TIMES: Terrifying though the coronavirus may be, it can be turned back. China, South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan have demonstrated that, with furious efforts, the contagion can be brought to heel.Whether they can keep it suppressed remains to be seen. But for the United States to repeat their successes will take extraordinary levels of coordination and money from the country’s leaders, and extraordinary levels of trust and cooperation from citizens. It will also require international partnerships in an interconnected world.
There is a chance to stop the coronavirus. This contagion has a weakness. Although there are incidents of rampant spread, as happened on the cruise ship Diamond Princess, the coronavirus more often infects clusters of family members, friends and work colleagues, said Dr. David L. Heymann, who chairs an expert panel advising the World Health Organization on emergencies.
No one is certain why the virus travels in this way, but experts see an opening nonetheless. “You can contain clusters,” Dr. Heymann said. “You need to identify and stop discrete outbreaks, and then do rigorous contact tracing.” But doing so takes intelligent, rapidly adaptive work by health officials, and near-total cooperation from the populace. Containment becomes realistic only when Americans realize that working together is the only way to protect themselves and their loved ones.
In interviews with a dozen of the world’s leading experts on fighting epidemics, there was wide agreement on the steps that must be taken immediately.Those experts included international public health officials who have fought AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, flu and Ebola; scientists and epidemiologists; and former health officials who led major American global health programs in both Republican and Democratic administrations.
Americans must be persuaded to stay home, they said, and a system put in place to isolate the infected and care for them outside the home. Travel restrictions should be extended, they said; productions of masks and ventilators must be accelerated, and testing problems must be resolved.
But tactics like forced isolation, school closings and pervasive GPS tracking of patients brought more divided reactions. It was not at all clear that a nation so fundamentally committed to individual liberty and distrustful of government could learn to adapt to many of these measures, especially those that smack of state compulsion.
“The American way is to look for better outcomes through a voluntary system,” said Dr. Luciana Borio, who was director of medical and biodefense preparedness for the National Security Council before it was disbanded in 2018. “I think you can appeal to people to do the right thing.”
In the week since the interviews began, remarkable changes have come over American life. State governments are telling residents they must stay home. Nonessential businesses are being shuttered. The streets are quieter than they have been in generations, and even friends keep a wary distance. What seemed unthinkable just a week ago is rapidly becoming the new normal. What follows are the recommendations offered by the experts interviewed by The Times. MORE
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