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Fareed Zakaria: COVID-19 lockdowns are a sign of failure

October 27, 2020, 5:28 PM UTC

Lockdowns are a sign of policy failure, according to political commentator and author Fareed Zakaria.

“Lockdowns are a sign you have failed,” the CNN host and Washington Post columnist said. “You are using a big blunt instrument, and you are crushing the economy.”

Zakaria was discussing his newly published book, Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World, with Fortune editor-in-chief Clifton Leaf at the Fortune Global Forum on Tuesday.

Zakaria praised the policies followed by Taiwan, which despite being located next door to China, the initial epicenter of the pandemic, and welcoming millions of Chinese tourists annually, implemented a highly effective test and trace system early in the pandemic. It also isolated anyone infected in designated quarantine centers.

“They acted early, aggressively, and intelligently,” he said. As a result, he noted, Taiwan had experienced just seven COVID-19 deaths so far. “And, by the way, they are an open democracy, very transparent. And, to add to this, they spend one-third as much on health care as the United States.” He said that several other Asian countries, including South Korea, Singapore, and Vietnam, had followed similar policies and also had experienced few infections and deaths, both in absolute terms and relative to the size of their populations.

Zakaria said that the pandemic presented an opportunity for both countries and companies to rebuild economies and businesses with greater resilience, so that they are better able to weather the next crisis.

“We will not know what the next crisis is,” he said. “But we will be able to say we built a company, country, or even ourselves with a certain internal resilience.”

To that end, Zakaria urged company leaders to focus on “the little things,” that can create a cascade of failures, as well as the most obvious threats. He noted that governments often failed to do this. Before 9/11, for example, the U.S. government spent most of its time worried about great powers, like Russia and China, as well as rogue states, like Iraq under Saddam Hussein, and the concern that he would acquire weapons of mass destruction: “And here you had 19 people, 19 men, with box cutters—that is a military weapon invented in the Bronze Age—but who created the most devastating geopolitical circumstances in a generation.”

Similarly, Zakaria noted that before the 2008 financial crisis, the U.S. government worried more about the potential impact of China no longer supporting the U.S. dollar and U.S. debt, and not about the credit default swaps that eventually wreaked havoc on the economy. This time, with the pandemic, there was more concern about highly exotic and deadly viruses, like Ebola, than about a simple coronavirus, quietly incubating inside a bat.

He said that society as a whole, and businesses in particular, could remain open, transparent, dynamic, and fast-moving, but that societies needed guardrails and insurance policies to prevent future catastrophes.

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