Monday, March 22, 2021

Peter Baldwin's "Fighting the First Wave"

Peter Baldwin is Professor of History at the University of California, Los Angeles and Global Distinguished Professor at New York University. His publications include Disease and Democracy: The Industrialized World Faces AIDS (2005), Contagion and the State in Europe, 1830–1930 (1999), and The Copyright Wars: Three Centuries of Trans-Atlantic Battle (2014).

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Fighting the First Wave: Why the Coronavirus Was Tackled So Differently Across the Globe, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Fighting the First Wave, deals with the speed at which various nations imposed their first attempts to control the pandemic when it hit their territory. This can be measured in various ways – from the 100th case, say, or from the third death. Not all such measures reveal anything interesting, but some do suggest that those countries that imposed measures quickly and decisively were more likely to control the pandemic better than the laggards.

Page 99 is not a bad place to get a sense of what the book is about. Its subject is why the world’s 200 nations dealt so differently with the Covid-19 pandemic.

The disease is the same everywhere, our scientific understanding of it was achieved at the very start of the pandemic, as the virus was identified, and so the problem that each nation faced was broadly the same. Nonetheless, there followed a Noah’s ark of different attempts to tackle it.

Broadly, these can be grouped into three categories: (1) those nations, in Asia especially, but including Australia and New Zealand, that imposed targeted quarantines on the sick, the infected, and their contacts, thus isolating them and protecting the vast bulk of the population; (2) those, such as Japan, the Netherlands, Belarus, Venezuela, Brazil, Nicaragua, and Sweden, where the aim was to slow the spread of the pandemic so to spare the hospital system being overwhelmed, but otherwise let the pandemic rip in hopes of achieving herd immunity and thus a return to normal life before a vaccine was developed; and finally (3) those countries in North America and Europe that realized it was too late to clamp down any longer, yet were not willing to tolerate the high mortality entailed by herd immunity, and therefore imposed arguably the most painful and expensive strategy, namely massive shutdown of society and the economy and its attendant violation of individual civil rights and huge economic costs.

Why different nations came to such various conclusions is the question the book seeks to answer.
Learn more about Fighting the First Wave at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue