Reality Check: Will COVID-19 Remake the World?

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SARS, MERS, H1N1, Ebola and other outbreaks had provided ample warning. Fifteen years ago, the World Health Organisation revised and upgraded the global framework for responding to outbreaks, trying to fix perceived shortcomings in the global response experienced during the SARS outbreak in 2003.

In 2016, the World Bank launched a Pandemic Emergency Financing Facility to provide assistance to low-income countries in the face of cross-border health crises. Most glaringly, just a few months before COVID-19 emerged in Wuhan, China, a US government report cautioned the Trump administration about the likelihood of a flu pandemic on the scale of the influenza epidemic a hundred years ago, which killed an estimated 50 million people worldwide.

Just like climate change, COVID-19 was a crisis waiting to happen. The response in the United States has been particularly disastrous. Trump downplayed the severity of the crisis for weeks. By the time infections and hospitalisations began to soar, the country found itself severely short of test kits, masks, ventilators and other medical supplies.

The US did not request test kits made available by the WHO, and failed to produce reliable tests early on. Trump declined to use his authority to requisition medical supplies from private producers, forcing hospitals and state authorities to scramble and compete against one another to secure supplies.

Delays in testing and lockdowns have been costly in Europe as well, with Italy, Spain, France and the United Kingdom paying a high price.

Some countries in East Asia have...

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