Sanitizing a movie theater in Mumbai, India, October 2020
Niharika Kulkarni / Reuters

“Government exists to protect us from each other,” U.S. President Ronald Reagan once famously said, but goes “beyond its limits . . . in deciding to protect us from ourselves.” 

When applied to pandemic threats, Reagan’s view was wrong, and so are the views of the many policymakers in the United States and abroad who have adopted it. Confronted with a novel, contagious virus, for which there is no effective treatment and against which people have no preexisting immunity, the only way for government to effectively protect citizens from one another is by convincing them to take the necessary measures to

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