In late 2019, healthcare practitioners in Wuhan, China started to see the emergence of a new disease that was highly infectious and shared characteristics with the flu. Scientists scrambled to determine the virus’s origin and extent of the outbreak. By the end of January, travel in and out of Wuhan was restricted to help contain the spread.
Fast forward to present day – just eight months later – and the novel coronavirus has changed our world irrevocably. With over 15 million recorded infections and more than 600,000 deaths globally, as reported by Johns Hopkins University, the end is not yet within sight.
By most accounts, China has managed to contain its epidemic, in spite of widespread reports about how the country mishandled the initial outbreak in late 2019. Beginning in late January, China took decisive action to limit public mobility, provide rapid treatment, establish quarantine centers, and introduce mass testing. As a result, the country lowered case counts significantly; as of Wednesday, July 22, the total number of COVID-19 cases reported on the mainland is 83,729 – about half of one percent of total global cases. Earlier this week, Chinese officials said the country had ended a major outbreak in Beijing that started in June and is maintaining its vigilance in responding immediately to clusters that arise in various parts of the country. The ethics of the country’s response, which saw and continues to see government officials silencing whistleblowers, have been called into question.
Conversely, the U.S. continues to experience record-breaking case counts. On Thursday, July 16, the country saw its highest daily case count at over 77,300, driven largely by states that were quick to reopen their economies and social distancing guidelines that were inadequate or executed poorly. While certain states, like New York and New Jersey, took swift action after being hard-hit in the spring and have regained control over the pandemic, the U.S. will not “flatten the curve” without greater leadership at the federal and state levels.
This week’s edition of Rabin Martin’s COVID-19 Briefing spotlights the contrasting responses of the world’s two greatest economies. How have their strategies differed? And, more importantly, why have the results been so drastically different? Please find our earlier COVID-19 Briefings here.
As of Thursday, July 23, at 3:00 pm ET, Johns Hopkins University has reported 15,317,997 confirmed cases and 625,852 deaths attributed to COVID-19, globally.
There have been 4,005,414 confirmed cases and 143,820 deaths in the U.S.
The Response: A Study in Contrasts
Two global superpowers. Two dramatically different approaches. Since the pandemic’s outset, the U.S. and China have failed to align on virtually any aspect of the pandemic response, whether economic trade policy or public health approaches.
Officials from both countries have accused the other of unleashing the virus on the world intentionally. Tensions have hit a breaking point. “The U.S. has been shirking its own responsibilities and undermining global solidarity in combating the virus by declaring its exit from the WHO, politicizing matters related to the pandemic and smearing others,” said Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry. In turn, on Tuesday, July 21, the U.S. accused China of sponsoring hackers to gain intelligence around U.S.-led COVID-19 vaccine trials and charged two Chinese men in the scheme.
Neither country is without blame for its response, as outlined below. In fact, a WHO team of experts is currently in China conducting an investigation into the source of the pandemic.
Wuhan – once the global epicenter of the pandemic with 68,135 cases – has reduced markedly its daily case count. A recent study in Nature contends that 87 percent of cases went undetected from the beginning of January through early March, and likely contributed significantly to the spread. However, quick action from the government – involving strict lockdowns, house-to-house temperature checks, and the establishment of quarantine centers – resulted in swift containment. Described as “wartime” measures, questions remain around the human rights implications of such an approach.
The country remains on high alert. In late June, the government imposed a strict lockdown of 400,000 people in the central province of Hebei when just 18 cases were detected. Also in June, Beijing imposed soft restrictions, constituting a partial lockdown, after a flare-up of cases in the capital city. After the spikes in Beijing slowed, on Monday, July 20, the government lowered the emergency response level. The change means that public spaces like parks, tourism sites, gyms, libraries, and museums may reopen, with capacity limited to 50 percent, among other reopening measures.
Nationally, China has instituted a strict 14-day quarantine for anyone entering the country from abroad, effectively limiting transmission of COVID-19 by foreign travelers. In late June, Chinese officials announced that the country had conducted over 90 million COVID-19 tests since the beginning of the pandemic. No new cases of community transmission have been reported in the country in the past two weeks – a remarkable achievement.
The U.S. response remains fragmented and largely ineffective. The federal government did not issue consistent policies or guidance to facilitate a nationwide lockdown or interstate travel bans. States continue to implement their own social distancing requirements, and enforcement varies. As a result, infection and mortality rates are climbing. The U.S. represents 26 percent of total cases globally, and these figures are expected to increase even further as states continue with their reopening plans. On Tuesday, July 21, a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study found that the actual U.S. case count could be anywhere from six to 24 times higher than official estimates suggest.
In the face of the growing crisis, President Trump has reversed his earlier stance diminishing the severity of the epidemic. In a press conference on Tuesday, July 21, he confirmed, “It will probably, unfortunately, get worse before it gets better.” For the first time, he also encouraged Americans to wear a face mask: “Get a mask. Whether you like the mask or not, they have an impact. They will have an effect, and we need everything we can get,” he said.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID)
Dr. Jonathan Quick, Managing Director of Pandemic Response, Preparedness and Prevention, The Rockefeller Foundation
Dr. Stephen Hoge, President, Moderna
John Young, Chief Business Officer, Pfizer.“Sound science and patient safety and health are, and will continue to remain, our top priorities in this effort.”
Sir Menelas Pangalos, Executive Vice President, AstraZeneca
With the exception of Merck, there was consensus that the U.S. could see a vaccine widely available by the end of the year. Industry representatives from AstraZeneca and J&J noted in their testimony a commitment to sell their vaccines, should they prove effective, on a not-for-profit basis. Still, access remains of paramount concern, and Representative Joe Kennedy (D-MA) urged companies to develop vaccine distribution plans that ensure access for communities of color and lower-income communities, which have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19.
At the request of the National Institutes of Health and the CDC, the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine are exploring how to overcome access challenges. On Friday, July 24, they will convene an ad hoc committee, co-chaired by William Foege of Emory Rollins School of Public Health and Helene Gayle of the Chicago Community Trust, to develop a framework to support equitable allocation of COVID-19 vaccines and to identify criteria for priority allocation, with careful consideration of health disparities.
From the Experts
“No matter how bad the situation, there is always hope. With strong leadership, community engagement, and a comprehensive strategy to suppress transmission and save lives, COVID-19 can be stopped. We do not have to wait for a vaccine. We have to save lives now.”
Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General, WHO
Monday, July 20
“Not only do we need to bend the curve of this epidemic; we need to provide America’s essential workers and children with a way to go about their work and lives more safely… The only alternative is more large-scale lockdowns. The price of that is too high to pay when we don’t have to, if we make smart, strategic, science-based investments now.”
Dr. Rajiv Shah, President, The Rockefeller Foundation
Monday, July 20
“Speed is important, but we will not compromise scientific efficacy, quality, and above all, safety, despite the sense of urgency we all feel.”
Dr. Julie Gerberding, Executive Vice President & Chief Patient Officer, Strategic Communications, Global Public Policy and Population Health, Merck & Co., Inc.
Tuesday, July 21
“It’s very, very difficult to get the country to pull together in a real unified way. Maybe the last time that we ever did that was 9/11,” in response to the fragmented U.S. COVID-19 approach.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director, NIAID
Tuesday, July 21
“In a nutshell, it remains unclear whether a thorough and objective investigation [by WHO into the source of the coronavirus] is possible.”
Yanzhong Huang, Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations
Tuesday, July 21
“Childcare and early childhood education build a foundation upon which every aspect of children’s development relies. The pandemic is putting that foundation under serious threat.”
Henrietta Fore, Executive Director, UNICEF
Tuesday, July 21
“Harmful laws can exacerbate stigma and discrimination, infringe on people’s rights, and undermine public health responses. To ensure responses to the pandemic are effective, humane, and sustainable, governments must use the law as a tool to uphold the human rights and dignity of people affected by COVID-19.”
Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director, UNAIDS
Wednesday, July 22
Reports from International Governments and Bodies
- WHO COVID-19 Information and Guidance
- WHO Situation Reports, July 20, July 21, July 22
- CDC Coronavirus Resource Page
- COVID-19 Health Systems Response Monitor
- NCD Alliance COVID resources relevant to NCDs
Funding and Policy Trackers
- International Monetary Fund Policy Tracker
- Kaiser Family Foundation Coronavirus Policy Tracker
- U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation Corporate Aid Tracker
- Devex Interactive Funding Tracker
Resource Pages and Market Research Literature
- JAMA Resource Center
- The Lancet COVID-19 Resource Centre
- 2019 Novel Coronavirus Research Compendium (NCRC)
- National Academy of Medicine COVID-19 News and Resources
- WIPO COVID-19 IP Policy Tracker
- The COVID Tracking Project
- PharmaIntelligence: Coronavirus – What will the Impact Be?
- Health Affairs Resource Center
- STAT News COVID-19 Tracker
- Global Health NOW’s COVID-19 Expert Reality Check
- International Association of National Public Health Institutes COVID-19 Resources
- Primary Health Care Performance Initiative Forum
- U.S. Global Leadership Coalition COVID-19 Issue Briefs
- Prevent Epidemics Weekly Science Review
What We’re Reading
- Inside Johnson & Johnson’s Nonstop Hunt for a Coronavirus Vaccine – Carl Zimmer, The New York Times
- A Coronavirus Vaccine: Where Does It Stand? – Louis Jacobson, Kaiser Health News
- The Coronavirus Pandemic Will Transform How Vaccines Are Made – Saad Omer, Foreign Policy
- Routine Childhood Immunization During The COVID-19 Pandemic in Africa: A Benefit–Risk Analysis Of Health Benefits Versus Excess Risk Of SARS-Cov-2 Infection – Kaja Abbas, Simon Procter, Kevin van Zandvoort, Andrew Clark, Sebastian Funk, Tewodaj Menigstu, The Lancet
- The State of The Global Race For A Coronavirus Vaccine – Dave Lawler, Axios
- How Munich Turned Its Coronavirus Outbreak Into a Scientific Study – Elisabeth Zerofsky, The New Yorker
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About Rabin Martin
Rabin Martin is a global health strategy firm working at the intersection of private sector capabilities and unmet public health needs. Rooted in our mission to improve health for underserved populations, we design strategies, programs and partnerships that both deliver public health impact and drive business results. We leverage our deep knowledge and networks across a wide range of geographies and health areas to develop tailored solutions for every client engagement. We have helped many clients create bold global health initiatives and innovative multi-sector partnerships. Our specific areas of expertise include infectious disease and vaccines, non-communicable diseases, rare diseases, maternal and child health, and universal health coverage. Our clients and partners include multinational health care companies, multilateral institutions, government agencies, large foundations and leading NGOs. Rabin Martin is part of the Omnicom Public Relations Group.
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