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The unpalatable lesson of coronavirus: dictatorships can be effective

The discipline of public health inherently prioritises the collective good over individual freedom

By Elizabeth Pisani   April 2020

Has WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus sent contradictory signals? Photo: Zheng Huansong/Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

When the World Health Organisation Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus declared Covid-19 a public health emergency of international concern, he urged countries not to restrict travel or trade with China. “It is a time for solidarity, not stigma,” he said, just two days after British Airways and other airlines announced they were suspending all direct flights to the Chinese mainland. He also repeated a clarion cry for transparency (“facts, not fear; science, not rumours”).


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