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The Coronavirus Crisis: Responses in China, Italy, and the United States

March 27, 2020

Carla Freeman, Executive Director of the SAIS Foreign Policy Institute
Erik Jones, Director of European and Eurasian Studies
Andrew Mertha, Director of the China Studies Program

In the past month, the coronavirus has caused a public health crisis across the world. Governments have scrambled to contain and mitigate it, with very different results. Johns Hopkins SAIS faculty experts joined a webinar to discuss responses to the coronavirus in China, Italy, and the United States, which have experienced the highest number of cases worldwide.

Erik Jones began the conversation with remarks on the current situation and political response in Italy. Jones underscored the challenge of getting an advanced industrial democracy to accept an unprecedent restriction on freedom of movement. He noted that despite the country-wide lockdown, Italians have shown an immense approval for the strength Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has demonstrated. Three weeks into the lockdown, the country can only begin now to debate whether the curve has flattened, while several more weeks of discipline are needed in order for the situation to become controllable and assess if the eventual loosening up of the freedom of movement will not yield a second wave of the pandemic.

Andrew Mertha joined the conversation by providing insights on the current situation in China. He began by addressing the problematic situation that revolved around the emergence of the virus in Wuhan, where local authorities downplayed the veracity of information arising from the medical community, leading China to delay action, let the problem metastasize, and misinform the general public of what was actually happening in Wuhan. He noted that the initial lockdown in Wuhan has now been loosened as a result of the Chinese government successfully implementing radical social distancing measures and requiring home quarantines.

Carla Freeman offered perspective on the international aspect of the coronavirus crisis particularly touching upon US-China relations. Beyond the huge repercussion on global health and economic growth, Freeman emphasized the challenges the current international environment has experience in forming a collective response. She noted that China’s international response to the coronavirus has reflected regional efforts to address the global pandemic, particularly through ASEAN, while also using the crisis to improve relations with neighbouring countries such as Japan. 

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