The Comforting and Misleading Political Response to Britain’s Coronavirus Disaster: Sam Knight in The New Yorker

On Sunday, the toll from Britain’s outbreak of covid-19 surpassed twenty-eight thousand deaths. You don’t need a graph, or to argue about the methodological niceties of how governments count their dead, to understand that the United Kingdom has had a terrible encounter with the virus. Britain has an internationally respected public-health apparatus. In October, 2016, the government ran Exercise Cygnus, a simulation of how a global influenza pandemic would overwhelm the nation’s health system and ravage the economy. Last year, Britain’s National Security Risk Assessment highlighted the risk of a mutated-flu outbreak as one of the worst—and most likely—risks facing the country, as well as the possibility of “an emerging respiratory coronavirus infection” arriving in the U.K. The Department of Health continues to describe Britain as “one of the most prepared countries in the world for pandemics.” And yet. In the weeks after December 30th, last year, when Chinese officials first informed the World Health Organization of a novel coronavirus in Wuhan, the U.K. made no striking plans to respond. Even as the virus tore through Northern Italy, and the British authorities had a chance to see, at relatively close quarters, what covid-19 could do to a prosperous European society, they dithered. Countries such as Germany, South Korea, and Singapore, which have responded well to the virus, all appear to have followed a similar playbook of mass testing, contact tracing, and collective vigilance. Each nation that has failed is more likely to have its own particular story of what went wrong. We are unhappy in our own way.

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