Fighting The First Wave by Peter Baldwin

‘In this compelling guide to the coronavirus pandemic, Peter Baldwin shows that the varied state responses to COVID-19 cannot be explained by science or politics alone’ — Mark Honigsbaum

Fighting The First Wave by Peter Baldwin
COVID-19 is the biggest public health and economic disaster of our time. It has posed the same threat across the globe, yet countries have responded very differently and some have clearly fared much better than others. Peter Baldwin uncovers the reasons why in this definitive account of the global politics of pandemic. He shows that how nations responded depended above all on the political tools available — how firmly could the authorities order citizens’ lives and how willingly would they be obeyed? اضافة اعلان

In Asia, nations quarantined the infected and their contacts. In the Americas and Europe they shut down their economies, hoping to squelch the virus’s spread. Others, above all Sweden, responded with a light touch, putting their faith in social consensus over coercion. Whether citizens would follow their leaders’ requests and how soon they would tire of their demands were crucial to hopes of taming the pandemic.

UCLA history professor Baldwin (Disease and Democracy) delivers a comprehensive survey of how different countries have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic. The three most prevalent strategies, according to Baldwin, have been targeted quarantines like the ones imposed in China, which “spared the bulk of the population” by isolating the infected and their contacts; a “hands-off mitigation” approach, as seen in Brazil; and suppression, such as the statewide lockdowns imposed in some parts of the US.

Baldwin points out that pandemic responses have sometimes run counter to national political identities; liberal New Zealand, for instance, has taken a similar approach to autocratic China. He makes clear that researchers still don’t know why some parts of the world have been less hard-hit than others, and notes that COVID-19 may have opened the door for governments in the US and the UK to play a larger role in tackling social problems. But it’s too early to tell if that opportunity will be realized, or whether true international cooperation will emerge on public health matters. 

Brisk and informative, this first draft history of the pandemic is a valuable resource for policymakers and lay readers looking to go beyond the headlines.

Baldwin clarifies accurately that: “Everyone had to accept the possibility of being quarantined for the collective weal. But until the disease was eradicated everywhere and for all, there was no end of things for anyone. A reserve of infection in one neighborhood, among one set of citizens, or in one part of the world, spelled danger for the rest. We are only as safe as the sickest member of our community. So long as a critical mass has not been vaccinated, there will be no real security. The solution has to be global or not at all. Why, even despite a shared scientific understanding of the etiology of COVID-19, were the responses of governments across the globe so very different? 

With Fighting the First Wave, Peter Baldwin shows that the different state responses to COVID-19 can’t be explained by science or politics, but depend on many historical, social, and cultural factors. Drawing on a history of public health, fighting the First Wave begins to unravel the most puzzling aspects of the global response to the pandemic, and offers many key lessons for today, and for future pandemics that will unfortunately come.

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