Let me thank John Walter and Rich Dell’Erba for taking the time to write letters (Dec. 23 and Dec. 26-27, respectively) that put some of the COVID numbers and statistics in their proper context.

Overlooked in all this is the fundamental question of which countries did better combating the virus and what steps led to their success. Early on in the U.S. outbreak, I encountered a businessman who had just returned from Taiwan. He was already upset about the U.S. response. When I asked why, he replied that to date Taiwan, only 81 miles from mainland China, had only one death from COVID (the U.S., over 7,000 miles away, had already far exceeded that death toll). From the beginning Taiwan took it seriously, he said. They implemented inbound passenger screening (eventually closing the borders), began immediate use of PPE, including masks, widespread testing and contact tracing, effective quarantining of infected persons (stipends paid to stay at home and large fines if you didn’t) and required social distancing.

In contrast, our president “deliberately downplayed it.” As of Jan. 1, Taiwan’s death count from COVID had reached seven out of a total population of 24 million. In the U.S., with a population of 328 million, that would translate into 96 total American deaths! Taiwan never bought into the false choice between the economy and fighting the virus. Fighting the virus early on with every tool they had would, they believed, preserve both lives and the economy. While our economy has contracted, with many businesses destroyed, Taiwan’s GDP has been growing without a desperate need for a vaccine.

It is noteworthy that the governments with some of the lowest death rates from COVID — Taiwan, New Zealand, South Korea and Germany — three of the four have women leaders (Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen is a woman). Countries with high death rates — the U.S., Brazil and Great Britain — all have “populist” men at the helm. Maybe it’s because the vast majority of illness is cared for mostly by women in the role of mothers and nurses, that they were better prepared to respond.

Had it been left to the popular vote instead of the Electoral College in 2016, this country would have had a woman leader going into the pandemic. From the examples of Tsai Ing-wen (Taiwan), Jacinda Ardern (New Zealand) and Angela Merkel (Germany), it’s likely that the outcome here would have been far less catastrophic.


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