What happens when the new coronavirus hits democratic countries

U.S. President Donald Trump takes questions during a news conference in New Delhi, India, February 25, 2020. REUTERS/Al Drago

This analysis was excerpted from the February 26 edition of CNN's Meanwhile in America, the daily email about US politics for global readers. Sign up here to receive it every weekday morning.

(CNN)Covid-19, meet democracy.

It's one thing to battle an epidemic in an authoritarian state like China, which can isolate an entire epicenter city. It's another in a free nation like Italy, where government curfews and curtailed rights are relics of a tortured history. The world is now finding out what happens when a contagion hits open continental borders and citizens accustomed to free speech and movement.
    China bought the rest of the world time with draconian quarantines designed to contain the novel coronavirus. But Western governments will have difficulty containing outbreaks in the same way. And while Beijing can impose news blackouts, Western governments can't, meaning that political pressure can quickly escalate -- and so can financial panic.
    Still, in a transparent system, medical experts can expect reliable data that will help them check an epidemic. And calm counsel from elected politicians can go a long way toward quieting public fear — if the leaders a