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  • Philip Stephens

National action cannot fix a global pandemic


Once in a generation, maybe once in a century, political leaders must light a bonfire of contemporary preconceptions to confront a shared emergency. This is such a moment. History may ultimately define the 21st-century by the strong geopolitical rivalry between the US and China. For the immediate future the national interests of these two great powers are one. Those of European nations, too.

Washington and Beijing have been heading in the opposite direction. The blame game — tit-for-tat expulsions of journalists and US President Donald Trump’s description of Covid-19 as the “Chinese” virus — signposts a dangerous route to international breakdown. The vital work of epidemiologists and economic policymakers will be rendered useless if the leading powers choose to fight rather than co-operate.

The coronavirus pandemic began in China, has its epicentre in Europe, and is spreading rapidly across the US. It cannot be beaten in one of these regions unless it is defeated in all three. Containing it, and capping the human and economic costs, demands that the centres of global power work hand in hand. Prevailing economic orthodoxies have been rendered obsolete by the crisis. As with economics, so with politics. Closed borders and go-it-alone fiscal stimulus packages do not match the scale of the emergency.

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