An international perspective on COVID-19 and the U.S.

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected every corner of the world. No country is immune to its influence, although some have handled the situation more effectively than others. Ross Ciesla, chief investment officer at Veritas Investment Partners, Katherine Wilson, author and cultural commentator and Mohamed Abdirizak, foreign minister for the government of Somalia, were the morning keynote speakers for the second day of the 2021 Washington State of Reform Virtual Health Policy Conference. They spoke about the effects of the pandemic around the world.


Get the latest state-specific policy intelligence for the health care sector delivered to your inbox.


“The virus recognizes no borders, nationalities, gender, individuals or economic status,” Abdirizak said. “We’re all equally victims of this deadly disease.”

The U.S. is experiencing a second wave of the virus. Hospitals are filling up and health care workers are pleading with citizens to stay home. A similar situation is occurring in the United Kingdom, but their government has responded to the second wave with another lockdown to combat the mounting cases.

“The news flow is changing, from the government, from the BBC, we’re seeing a lot more reports from consultants, nurses and I think this is being delivered for a reason, because they’re wanting people to know this is extremely serious” Ciesla said. “One report last night from one of the hospitals based in London, which is really feeling it the worst, one of the consultants said that we’re within a week from full capacity. He went on to explain that if this keeps going then we will be so overloaded that even if you have a car accident, it might be difficult to bring you in for critical care. So the second wave is extremely serious.”

In Italy, the second wave seems to be waning. Wilson credits this to the cultural differences between the U.S. and Italy. She said that because Italy is such a family based culture people have united over the need to protect their families.

“The media has been all over the place saying we need to protect the older generation, we need to protect the weakest members of society,” Wilson said. “There’s no sort of antagonism between the generations. I’ve heard so many older people saying ‘these poor kids, we had our youth and we were able to go out and see each other. Let’s do everything we can so they can see each other.’ There’s not been as much of an idea of ‘oh those irresponsible youth who are trying to do this, that and the other, and then we’re the ones that bear the brunt.’” 

She said that the government was very clear about not having more than six people over for Christmas and restricted movement between regions. The country went into a “red zone”, their term for a lockdown, over the holidays to prevent the spread of the virus. Testing is also widely available in the country, so residents are able to catch cases early. 

Somalia has experienced low case numbers as well. In the period from December 20-26, 2020, they tested 4,015 people with only 24 testing positive. That is a positivity rate of 0.6% for that period.  The positivity rate for the past 8 weeks has been below 2%, Abdirizak said. 

This panel took place on January 7, 2021, less than a day after the insurrection that had occurred in Washington D.C. when supporters of now former President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol Building The panelists were asked to provide an international look into the chaos that happened on January 6.

“This is shocking,” Abdirizak said. “People are, even here in Mogadishu, all glued to the TV watching this. But American institutions, public institutions and governance institutions are very strong to withstand it, so I’m not worried about this in the long term. But it also shows that in the short term, there needs to be real conversations had about who we are as a society. About our values, about so many things.”


“The first reaction was disbelief, but then the second reaction was actually maybe this isn’t a surprise,” Ciesla said. “One of my favorite countries is the States. I love the optimism, the friendliness, the warmth of the country. I remember being in the States about three years ago, and I just switched on one of the news channels. It was what I would class as a neutral news channel, and there were six or seven headlines. Every single one of them was negative, every single one. It was nothing positive, and yet there were so many positive things happening in the States. And I thought about that last night, that incremental, negative, divisive, antagonistic news flow, it fires up the fringes.”


“This thing that has happened in the US is actually not all that unusual globally,” Wilson said. “It’s not something that doesn’t happen, and we’re not immune to it. But that said, our institutions and our sense of optimism and hope and real faith in democracy will mean that we’ll get through it.”