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The politics of pandemics

This week’s topics are dominated by covid-19. The pandemic, as the World Health Organisation has officially declared it, is spreading fast, with almost 45,000 cases and nearly 1,500 deaths in 112 countries outside China. Politicians are belatedly realising that, as health systems buckle and deaths mount, they will have to weather the storm. America, despite its wealth and the excellence of its medical science, has squandered its chance to prepare for the pandemic, and China’s president, Xi Jinping, celebrated a precipitous fall in cases with a victory lap in Wuhan, where the disease first took hold.

As markets tumble we explore the parallels with the financial crisis of 2007-09, the vulnerability of credit markets to a downturn and how past pandemics have scarred economies. We stress-test Britain’s National Health Service. We analyse Iran’s failure to contain the virus. We evaluate the quarantines in Italy, South Korea and China, and their feasibility in other countries. And we devote three pages to a portrait of the virus behind it all, SARS-CoV-2, and the drugs that might one day bring it to heel.

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