Jim O’Neill praises China’s coronavirus response

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Jim O’Neill, the chair of U.K. think tank Chatham House, on Wednesday commended the “fast, aggressive” Chinese response to the coronavirus outbreak, suggesting western countries should follow suit.

Speaking to CNBC’s “Squawk Box Europe” on Wednesday, the former Goldman Sachs chief economist said the virus had “brought out the best and worst of the Chinese model.”

On one hand, O’Neill said the dominance of President Xi Jinping and the diminished responsibility of officials in Wuhan, where the virus originated, may have enabled COVID-19 to initially spread quicker.

“That said — and it’s often like a lot of other things when China got hit with a crisis over the last 30 years — once they realized the scale of it, the system seems to be capable of dealing with it pretty quickly, relative to other places, and pretty decisively,” he added.

Chinese authorities shut down vast swathes of the country’s travel infrastructure and industrial production last month, causing a profound short-term shock to the Chinese and global economy. However, new cases of the virus in greater China have now slowed to a trickle, while Italy deals with a rapid escalation in new infections and a spiking death toll.

“Thank God this didn’t start in somewhere like India, because there’s absolutely no way that the quality of Indian governance could move to react in the way that the Chinese have done, that’s the good side of the Chinese model, and I think you could probably say the same about Brazil too.”

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi convened a government meeting at the weekend and directed officials to identify suitable locations for quarantine facilities and make provisions for critical care. The number of cases in the country has now reached 50, according to the latest WHO figures.

The Indian government has also launched awareness campaigns and imposed a range of travel and visa restrictions in a bid to contain the virus. The Indian consulate in London did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.

The former commercial secretary to the U.K. Treasury suggested that western governments dealing with outbreaks of their own, such as Italy and the U.K., should look to emulate China, South Korea and Singapore in the swift deployment of aggressive containment measures.

He also argued that finance and economic policymakers must begin treating health policy more seriously and think of it in the same way as other investment spending, and criticized the protectionist agenda of the U.S. and other nations on international trade.

“Unless we get rid of all forms of communication, we are globalized people and we need to think and learn from each other about the right solutions at any moment in time for all of us,” O’Neill concluded.

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