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A Pandemic of Deglobalization?

At this stage, there is no telling how bad the COVID-19 epidemic will become before the contagion subsides or an effective, widely available vaccine is rolled out. In any case, we should not be surprised if the crisis leads to far-reaching, historically significant global change.

PRINCETON – The outbreak of the new coronavirus, COVID-19, that began in Wuhan, China, may well turn into a global pandemic. Nearly 50 countries have confirmed cases of the virus, with the precise nature of the transmission mechanism remaining unclear.

Pandemics are not just passing tragedies of sickness and death. The omnipresence of such mass-scale threats, and the uncertainty and fear that accompany them, lead to new behaviors and beliefs. People become both more suspicious and more credulous. Above all, they become less willing to engage with anything that seems foreign or strange.

Nobody knows how long the COVID-19 epidemic will last. If it does not become less contagious with the arrival of spring weather in the northern hemisphere, nervous populations around the world may have to wait until a vaccine is developed and rolled out. Another major variable is the effectiveness of public-health authorities, which are significantly less competent in many countries than they are in China.

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