The second category for mortality are those with impaired respiratory health. Mild (and easily survivable) cases involve “only” the upper respiratory system and often involve “only” a dry cough and fever. Severe and critical cases (which require hospitalization) see the virus migrate into the lower respiratory system, inducing pneumonia and lung failure. Americans may be younger than Europeans on average, but they are also in poorer health. America teems with “lifestyle” diseases such as obesity and diabetes. Over half the American population has restricted respiratory health, making much of the population more vulnerable to the virus’ effects.
Once the initial peak passes, we’ll start peeking out from under our rocks and start venturing back into the sun. We’ll loosen our quarantines on both sides of the Atlantic, but the virus won’t be done with us. Europe’s higher connectivity means the virus is likely more entrenched more deeply within the population than the United States. Europe’s quarantine will need to last longer, and Europeans’ close proximity to one another means a local flare-up can easily go national or transnational. Distance and the de facto suspension of air travel means the United States can – will – have local flare ups and they will jump cities. But the combination of the virus’ relatively long incubation period combined with the fact that most US cities are at considerable remove will make the post-quarantine period feel like a giant game of whack-a-mole instead of a nationwide secondary (and tertiary, and quaternary…) epidemic.
There’s one additional difference worth noting. Leadership at the national level in the United States and the supernational level in Europe is sorely lacking.
Ideologically, the Trump administration is fairly opposed to government, and as such has refused to fill – three years into its term – many top spots throughout the federal system. Mr. Trump is also pretty hard on what staff he has; Even within his cabinet Trump has a bit of a revolving-door policy for top personnel. For example, the president is already on his fourth chief of staff. Don’t-shoot-the-messenger is a concept largely lost on the American president and he is allergenically opposed to information that doesn’t match his worldview or whim.
That makes epidemic mitigation – something that to be done right requires seeking
bad news – damnably difficult. Trump’s decision to stop air traffic first to China and later to Europe was probably the right decision, that bought the United States a month of time to prepare. But then the Trump administration returned to business as usual and, a month later, here we are. Functional action on the epidemic, therefore, falls to the states and cities who are now competing for resources to combat the virus.
Europe isn’t any better, but it is less because of ideology or personality and instead because of constitutional law. The European Union has no
indigenous disaster response capabilities, and what little it has are held within the NATO alliance. Since NATO’s backbone is US troops and since not all EU members are NATO members, it is highly unlikely we’ll see NATO forces enforcing quarantines across Europe.
Making decisions about novel situations at the EU level typically requires multiple all-night summits of all EU heads of government to hash out ad hoc legal and financial compromises. Under quarantine, that’s simply impossible. With the exception of Italy, the Europeans didn’t even begin
travel restrictions until a week ago. Legally and functionally, the EU’s member states are entirely on their own, and most lack even scant bits of the supply chains required to ramp up medical services.
These differences in health, age, governing and health care systems abound and are giving us a real-life compare-and-contrast case study between two similar-yet-different systems that is simultaneously large-scale, amazing and disturbing. These differences will also generate radically different consequences in finance, manufacturing, currency and governance – all of which will be the subject of subsequent installments in our Coronavirus Guides series.
And now the pitch: the Coronavirus Guides are our primer documents, intended not to finish the discussions of this or that topic, but to launch them. Contact us at Zeihan.com/consulting
to inquire about rates and scheduling options for teleconferences, videoconferences and in-depth consulting calls.