Keynote: The COVID Pandemic – An International Perspective

Our Morning Keynote on day two of the 2020 Inland Northwest State of Reform Virtual Health Policy Conference brought together thought leaders from Britain, Italy, and Kenya to discuss the global COVID-19 pandemic from an international perspective. Joining the conversation was Mohamed Abdirizak, founder of FDG-Synergy, Ross Ciesla, Chief Investment Officer at Veritas Investment Management, and Katherine Wilson, author & cultural commentator.


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The conversation kicked off with a discussion on what the last 6 months have been like from the three speakers’ individual perspectives.

Abdirizak says that back in March, the Kenyan government was very proactive and quickly put in place policies to stop the spread of the virus including curfews, a mask mandate, and a pause on international travel. He says the Kenyan population complied with these policies.

That experience, says Abdirizak, was quite different from his experience in Somalia where he was able to travel to for work in August. There, everything looked as it did before the pandemic. There were handshakes, minimal mask wearing, and gatherings where it appeared the country was back to normal.

Ciesla has also noticed variation in London. He says some areas of the city are quiet, while in other areas the streets look as they did pre-pandemic. Ciesla says that masks are mandated on public transportation, but out on the streets he estimates less than 10% of those in London wear masks.

“It’s not really only about governments and what policies they institute. It’s also the people and how they react to those or accept or do not accept those. So, there is different culture everywhere in the world,” added Abdirizak.

Abdirizak’s comment led to a conversation about how there are strong divisions among Americans related to mask-wearing, vaccines, and trust in science in the United States.

Wilson says in Italy there is much less anti-science sentiment compared to the US because in Italy there is one basic venue of communication. For example, during the pandemic everyone listened to the 6 o’clock evening news where scientists would present new data and information. In the US, she reasons, people are able find their own news sources.

“I feel like there’s really a sense in Italy that the science that comes out and the government – which was quite honestly pretty unified and clear in their message – Italians are behind it,” says Wilson. “I mean, there are a few voices contrary but they get drowned out pretty quickly.”

Wilson, who has lived in Italy for over 20 years, also says the country is often very politicized, but that the COVID pandemic shut that down.

“I think Italy was both penalized but also in some ways helped by the fact that it was hit so hard and so early because I think that made a real necessity of choosing a unified national policy,” said Wilson.

When asked about how the US has handled the pandemic compared to other areas of the world, Abdirizak says that he, along with his friends and family that still live in the US, are reacting with confusion and shock.

“We watch with horror, you know, with what we have been seeing initially in New York and then as it spread to other states,” said Abdirizak. “But then living here, where we don’t have as much deaths, we are just really scratching our heads. Maybe there are different strains of COVID, maybe there are other reasons to explain what is exactly going on…But I personally feel the way the Kenyan government has acted early on in sitting down and doing all of those policies and procedures which were seen as harsh initially, I think we’re grateful. We’re happy about how the public really followed these instructions and I don’t feel in America that was the case.”

Ciesla commented that from the bottom up, the United States still seems like a great country filled with innovation and the potential for technological advancement.

“But politically, I just think it’s an aberration. No one can quite believe, at a time when you really need leadership, what is happening. It just seems as a country that you’ve got some of the best innovators in the world, and the best thinkers, and the best debates, that you’ve got a real problem at the top,” said Ciesla.

He says the November 3 presidential election will be the most important election he has seen in his lifetime and the world’s most important election in decades.

The full keynote is available in the video above.