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Waging War on COVID-19

Like any war, the fight against COVID-19 will disproportionately hurt those who were already vulnerable. Unless countries can move past destructive nationalism and petty competition in order to engage in constructive cooperation, millions will suffer, both physically and economically.

HONG KONG – The world is at war. The enemy is resilient, ruthless, and unpredictable, with no regard for race, nationality, ideology, or wealth. Already, it has killed more than 26,000 people and infected over 560,000, from ordinary workers to the United Kingdom’s prime minister and crown prince. It has halted economies, overwhelmed health-care systems, and forced hundreds of millions to remain confined to their homes. And it will not back down.

Unlike a conventional war, the COVID-19 pandemic is not a choice or a competition. No ceasefire can be reached, no treaty signed. And, with no known vaccine or effective cure, the world has few weapons with which to fight it. The only way to restore peace – or, at the very least, stave off systemic failure until a more effective weapon is developed – is with a whole-of-government, whole-of-society, whole-of-world approach.

The most urgent imperative is to ensure that the frontline is not overwhelmed. As an Imperial College study showed, the best way to do that is through early and resolute social distancing: keeping people away from one another in order to slow down transmission. This replaces a steep, exponential “pandemic peaking curve” of infection with a “flattened” curve, in which severe cases do not exceed the health-care system’s capacity.

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