To contain disease outbreaks, health officials rely on people’s trust


Xinhua/Xiao Yijiu via Getty Images

As the coronavirus outbreak continues to spread, the Chinese government and health officials around the world are counting on an intangible factor to help them contain the virus: trust.

“I think of it as the ‘because I said so’ theory of governance,’ says Rob Blair, assistant professor of political science and international and public affairs at Brown University. To prevent the spread of disease, governments ask people to comply with public health recommendations that might seem onerous, like avoiding contact with certain people, isolating themselves, or changing travel plans. Even authoritarian governments can’t control every single person’s actions — much less control millions of people across a broad area. For those measures to work,…

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