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Opinion | Scholars’ Plea: U.S. and China, Work Together on the Pandemic

To the Editor:

Diseases are political, and they necessitate political action — no one should try to suggest otherwise. Unchecked, they toss legions out of work and kill millions, ravaging the most vulnerable the hardest. The calamity that is Covid-19 demands an equal or greater political force led by governments. It must be met with a powerful, multilevel, transnational, coordinated array of responses.

Officials in Washington, Beijing and beyond should stride cautiously, however. Avoid infusing the politics needed to quell Covid-19 with tactics designed to serve partisan interests. Your power should be focused on caring for others and marshaling resources for disease prevention — not on deflecting blame, shoring up approval ratings, settling scores or demonizing people because of ethnicity or nationality.

In the best of times, sidestepping self-serving impulses is hard. It’s even harder in an age of containment. We are told daily to secure our self, family and homeland. But, of course, diseases know no borders; supply chains are internationally embedded; and crisis management necessitates intergovernmental collaboration and data sharing among scientists.

Leaders should deploy their political capital wisely against Covid-19 for another reason. Relationships can take years to nurture and seconds to destroy, especially when a tweet circulates globally in an instant, a lesson we teach our students regularly. There is no place today for politicians to endanger bilateral ties by spreading conspiracies or insulting language about virological origins. Now is the time, instead, for rebuilding global public health alliances, such as the World Health Organization, renewing scientific exchanges and communicating respectfully across borders.

Matthew Kohrman
Xi Chen
Scott Rozelle
Dr. Kohrman is an associate professor of medical anthropology at Stanford, Dr. Chen is an assistant professor at the Yale School of Public Health, and Dr. Rozelle is a senior fellow at Stanford. More than 70 scholars have signed a longer version of this letter to date.

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