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Strongman Medicine: Suspicious Numbers and Brutal Quarantines (April 02, 2020)
- Strongman Medicine: Suspicious Numbers and Brutal Quarantines (April 02, 2020), Slate
- The 1918 flu almost certainly didn’t originate in Spain. One popular theory for how it acquired the “Spanish” name posits that Spain was the only country where you could read about the disease. That’s because Spain remained neutral during World War I, and therefore its newspapers weren’t censoring any information deemed harmful to national morale. The disease was also rampaging through other countries, including France, Germany, Britain, and the United States, but those governments suppressed or downplayed reports on the extent of the damage. Accurate and timely information is vital to combating a pandemic, but still, some countries’ first impulses are to cover up the spread of the disease.
- Vladimir Putin’s government has also been accused of downplaying the severity of the outbreak. Officially, there have been 2,337 cases in Russia—very low by international standards—but low testing rates make it hard to know for sure. Critics suggest that a suspiciously nationwide uptick in pneumonia cases in recent weeks actually consists of undiagnosed COVID-19 cases. Aggressive measures put in place to punish the spread of “false” information on the outbreak online may also be preventing media outlets from publishing accurate information. After moving much more slowly than other governments to order lockdowns and social distancing measures, Russia is finally implementing new rules as the number of cases has grown rapidly in recent days. Putin, who was highly visible while touting the government’s efforts to contain the disease’s spread early on, was conspicuously absent when it was time to deliver the bad news. The impending crisis has not stopped Russia’s government from scoring a propaganda coup by shipping medical supplies to other countries—including the U.S.
- It may not just be dictatorships that are playing this game. Given its proximity to China, high elderly population, and high smoking rate, Japan would seem to be highly vulnerable to the coronavirus. Yet the number of cases and deaths in the country has been conspicuously low until recent days—perhaps suspiciously low. Japan, which has not adopted widespread testing or the kinds of strict social distancing measures seen elsewhere, saw the number of cases spike dramatically since it was announced last week that the 2020 Olympics would be postponed.
- Last week, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi suddenly announced an unprecedented three-week lockdown for India’s 1.3 billion people, setting off a rash of panic buying and creating confusion about how the millions of poor Indians in the country’s informal sector are supposed to support themselves. The lockdown has left vast numbers of migrant workers stranded and hungry. Reports of police abuses quickly surfaced.
- Hungary’s parliament on Monday passed the emergency law, [...] allowing President Viktor Orbán to rule by decree for an indefinite period. This arguably makes Hungary the first dictatorship within the EU and the first democracy to fall victim to the coronavirus.