Forum assesses China’s response to the coronavirus epidemic

How the spread of coronavirus COVID-19 has been restrained—or accelerated—by legal and policy measures was a focus of a February 19 Forum sponsored by Latham & Watkins and co-hosted by the Reiss Center on Law and Security. Distinguished Senior Fellow Lisa Monaco moderated a panel that included New York Commissioner of Health Dr. Howard Zucker; Dr. Alexandra Phelan, a member of Georgetown University’s Center for Global Health Science and Security; Jerome A. Cohen Visiting Professor of Law Shitong Qiao; and science journalist Laurie Garrett.

Several panelists expressed skepticism that the steps that China has taken to control the epidemic, which is believed to have started in Wuhan, China, in December 2019, would prove to be effective in the long term.

Selected quotes from the discussion:

Alexandra Phelan: “A cordon sanitaire, which is what we saw in Wuhan,… essentially cordoning off an entire city so that people couldn’t come in and out, is a fairly arbitrary and highly restrictive and constrictive measure that isn’t appropriately tailored to achieve a public health outcome.… Public health is reliant upon public trust. When a government engages in measures that cause fear, or uncertainty and aren’t appropriately tailored and do restrict liberties, you undermine public trust, and public health needs people feeling comfortable to go to doctors, go to health care centers, engage with officials and tell them about their travel history or potential symptoms, so that you can then accurately screen them and test them, and isolate them if they’re unwell, and actually provide them with treatment.”

Howard Zucker: “You really do have to sort of weigh the public health and the public safety issue. These are tough decisions to make. The best thing we can do is always to continue to monitor. You don’t want to overreact to situations.… but the best way to do this is just to keep a very close eye on everything that’s going on.… Any time there is someone of concern, you really do have to go back and try to figure out all the epidemiology that’s involved here, and to move forward.”

Follow the full discussion on video:

Posted February 26, 2020