(Bloomberg) —

As governments worldwide race to shut down their societies to stop the spread of coronavirus and prevent their health-care systems from collapsing, the decisive actor will be the individual.

Italy, which surpassed China last week as the country with the most coronavirus deaths, is showing that no amount of forceful edicts from capitals to stay home will be effective unless citizens heed them.

Governments will play a big role in keeping the world economy afloat, with massive fiscal interventions and by mobilizing the resources that hospitals need. They can call out their armies and police if needed to ensure compliance. And leaders like German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau can set examples by putting themselves into self-isolation.

But in the end, success or failure in slowing the virus is going to come down to us. It has weaponized the human race — it explodes when we gather in clusters.

After its initial missteps, China showed the path to blunting the disease by sealing off its virus epicenter in Wuhan, and isolating everyone who came into contact with it. But with second waves menacing, the jury is still out on its long-term effectiveness.

Yet many nations don’t have Beijing’s centralized control. The fate of the world’s democracies is now somewhat out of their leaders’ hands — it will come down to what people choose to do in the days and months ahead.

Global Headlines

Rescue plan | Republicans and Democrats in Congress stumbled in their attempt to engineer a quick jolt to a sinking economy with a $2 trillion stimulus package. Negotiations over the legislation continued into the night — amid the rising virus death toll and predictions of a deep recession — after Senate Democrats voted to reject Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s plan because they say it’s too focused on companies and not enough on individual workers.

Two other Republican senators said they’ll go into self-quarantine after Rand Paul of Kentucky tested positive for Covid-19.

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Aid operation | Russian President Vladimir Putin sent military planes carrying doctors and medical equipment including ventilators to help Italy combat the pandemic. The delivery, bearing a heart sticker and the words “From Russia with Love,” was a PR coup for Putin amid resentment in Italy over European Union restrictions on exports of critical medical supplies. Russia may later “hint gently” that Italy can repay the favor by blocking the renewal of EU sanctions, one analyst said.

Military matters | The U.S. National Guard ramped up its role with 7,300 troops deployed across the country as President Donald Trump ordered new force activations to aid California, New York and Washington state. The move affects the three states most impacted by the virus so far but could quickly be extended.

Iran dilemma | As the coronavirus ravages Iran, the Trump administration is coming under pressure to ease U.S. sanctions on the Islamic Republic — so far to no avail. While Washington vows that it’s ready to help Iran fight the virus, some aid groups say America’s crushing “maximum pressure” campaign against the regime is worsening a humanitarian disaster.

India’s lockdown | The quandary facing India’s informal workforce of 450 million people is one of the starkest examples of how social inequality threatens to undermine virus-containment efforts around the world, Bibhudatta Pradhan and Archana Chaudhary report. “Everyone is afraid — there’s a terror that’s spreading,” said Mohibul Ansari, who lives in Dharavi, the sprawling Mumbai township described as Asia’s largest slum, where social distancing is all but impossible.

What to Watch This Week

The German cabinet meets today to discuss plans for a 150 billion-euro emergency budget, with Merkel set to dial in by videoconference from her Berlin apartment. German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz will speak to his EU counterparts by videoconference later today when they are expected to agree to invoke a crisis clause that eases spending restrictions. Tomorrow euro-area finance ministers will focus on how they can channel rescue money to the countries most affected by the pandemic. Joe Biden, who is all but certain to be the Democratic presidential nominee, is pushing back on suggestions the November election could be postponed amid the coronavirus pandemic. U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo is in Kabul to try and jump-start the Afghan peace process. Group of 20 leaders may hold a teleconference this week to discuss coordinated responses to the virus crisis.

Thanks to all who responded to our pop quiz Friday and congratulations to reader Sunil Khandelwal, who was the first to name Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador as the political leader who was out hugging and kissing supporters last week as the world went into lockdown. Tell us how we’re doing or what we’re missing at [email protected]

And finally …The Tokyo Olympics look likely to be the first games postponed since the modern era launched in 19th century. Canada was the latest country to pull its national team, saying it won’t send athletes unless the games, scheduled for July, are deferred until the coronavirus is under control.


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