The coronavirus pandemic has killed more than a million people and countless more lives have been devastated by its impact. But could the world have been spared such a disaster if it had responded differently?
In a six-part FT investigation we examined what went wrong and what went right as Covid-19 spread across the world.
The series looked at China and what went wrong in Wuhan; the global crisis in data; why coronavirus exposed Europe’s weakness and whether it will break the UK; how New York’s missteps let Covid-19 overwhelm the US; and what Africa can teach us about coronavirus, and the other lessons the world has learnt.
The series drew reader responses from across the world from people who had been affected by the pandemic in many different ways.
Here are some of the most thought-provoking comments. Feel free to continue the conversation in the comments section below.
Comments from Australia
It goes without saying that even including the Melbourne outbreak — potentially its biggest mistake — Australia has been far more successful at controlling the pandemic, so far.
Yes, Oz is experiencing its first recession for 27 years but it is unlikely to be as severely compromised economically as the UK.
Fast decision making and action is emerging as a key element of successful Covid-19 management and Oz was fortunate in creating a “National Cabinet”, in effect a coalition of the Premiers and the Federal PM meeting on Zoom.
The system of Medical Officers of Health at Federal and State parallels and supports the National Cabinet. Ministers of Health were only rarely seen in public.
We suspect that there may be large scientific Committees with advisory powers such as Sage but we have never heard of them. — Mr Down Under
Thank you for an excellent and fascinating article. My perspective is from Australia [ . . . ] A federated country can take action quickly but in this instance immediate history is important. PM Scott Morrison was heavily criticised for the (mis) management of the bush fires a few months prior to Covid-19. It is encouraging that those involved learnt from this.
Following the bush fires, it was recognised that the existing structures for consultation/dialogue between States was an impediment to the control of emergencies that involve several States. As this was recent history, when Covid-19 struck, the above arrangements went into action speedily with good results.
Once the initial emergency subsided, predictably enough, there has been dissension among the States about State border closures, notably and recently, in the outbreak in Victoria.
The question for the UK is whether we can confront our insularity and look outwards for solutions to problems. They are out there but do we have the courage to turn from our divisive, adversarial political practices to look elsewhere? — From Down Under
Voice from Canada
In Canada there was initial delay and some fumbling of the response at national level. The provinces stepped up strongly with varying degrees of success. Quebec has had a difficult time of it in both phase 1 and phase 2. Ontario has fared reasonably well, thanks to strong leadership but a larger population has meant a higher number of cases.
On balance, the remaining provinces with far smaller populations have managed the pandemic effectively. The tourism, hotels, airline businesses have been devastated and that continues indefinitely. The federal government is providing vast financial support to unemployed workers.
In my neighbourhood, shops and restaurants have gone out of business.
Generally willing to defer to authority as a national trait, most Canadians have been obedient to the mask-wearing and social distancing requirements. Schools are open for the moment with strict guidelines.
As our brutal winter gets set to begin, cases are rising amid increasing concerns of a return to full shutdown. — Tortolia
Experiences in China
The conclusion to the article is pretty clear: China was too slow to warn its own citizens and the world about the virus but then acted on an unprecedented scale to eliminate the virus.
If China had warned the world a few weeks earlier it would have made no difference: with very few exceptions most governments were not prepared to act.
What would have been better: (1) telling the world a few weeks earlier and then blithering along like most Western countries or (2) delaying telling the world but then having total lockdown eliminating the virus resulting in no further spread internationally from China and that the growth engine of the world could get back to business?
If China had followed the Western approach (option 1) there is absolutely no question we would be a far worse pandemic situation today and the world economy would be in total free fall if China had also succumbed. — Northing Lost
I was in Beijing in January and February. FT’s description of the total lockdown in Beijing (with only 100 cases as of end of January) is very accurate.
The Bus schedule was down from every few minutes to one an hour. All streets were deserted. Condo apartment quarters closed down all entrances but one to keep better track of the in-and-out. The households of the quarters got permits, with one per person.
People cancelled New Year family gatherings. Anybody violating the cluster gathering rules or refusing to co-operate with wearing masks can face criminal charges.
Daily update on the number of cases, in which district/which condo quarters, which flight or train were broadcasted and people sharing the same living quarters and flights/trains were asked to step forward for testing.
Local wardens were working 24/7 with the residents in the area on testing, registration, education and distributing masks.
The Chinese culture that puts collective well being the first helped. Chinese are also very afraid of death, unlike the brave Westerners. That made them to stay home, stay low to preserve their life and to preserve the life of others.
Money, food, medical teams were sent from all over the country to Wuhan, Hubei, by volunteers and by government organisation. It was a whole society response. — FF
Responses from England
I live in rural west Dorset which has fortunately been lightly affected by the pandemic. I am a member of the management committee of the support network this small village created before lockdown (when the government did not seem to know what it was doing).
We have had a few Covid-19 cases — most of which were in one family in which the father and mother work for the NHS. It appears that the “north/south divide” is more accurately a town versus country divide and will be interesting/alarming if we experience the spread to rural and semi rural areas that the USA has undergone.
That may be apparent when the university term ends and thousands of young adults return home carrying (quite possibly unwittingly) the virus back with them and creating a post Christmas third wave. — thumbscrew
I live in London. At every point in this outbreak decisions have been taken far too slowly. Because of central control the UK’s response has, at every stage, been slow and inadequate. Only now in the second wave is it possible that there will be delegation.
Also announcing that we are “going to have a lockdown next weekend” means that youngsters have superspreader parties just before which culminates in longer lockdowns.
Where is the leadership of the UK? What leadership? — BrexiSceptic
I was in New York from the 12th to the 18th of March. It was eerily quiet, and every attraction had shut up shop. But bars and restaurants were still open, so what was a few days of wandering the streets and exploring bars? Bars were of course packed. There was a sense of dark clouds on the horizons.
I flew back to London. The flight was operating as usual, it was full to the brim and wait-listed. Bread rolls were brought around in a basket, to be picked by hand. Maybe one or two people in my cabin wore a mask; how ridiculous I thought.
Shortly after arriving back in the UK, I got a bit of a cough, like a dry throat. Then suddenly my sense of smell completely disappeared. How odd, I thought. Studies at the time were unsure whether this was a symptom, and the UK was not testing anyone based on loss of taste/smell. Naively, I went food shopping, got a haircut, and went for a coffee with a friend.
Several months later, I took an antibody test which showed that this was Covid-19. I worry at the number of people I could have infected by bringing it to the UK from NYC (obviously it was already here). So what we can takeaway, is a worldwide failure to test people. hyweldda
Experience in Germany
Germany had one small piece of luck: many of the initial wave of infections there were imported via outbreaks that had occurred at ski resorts in the Alps.
That meant that many of the initial patients were younger and healthier than average, and that kept their death toll low in the initial days. But by itself that would have meant nothing — other countries like Sweden and Denmark also saw their epidemics started by returning skiers. In all cases, it spread rapidly to the rest of the population.
In Germany, though, the sight of very fit, relatively young patients with Covid-19 in hospital, and on ventilators — together with the reports from Italy — jolted doctors and the government into realising that this disease was a serious threat, and they reacted swiftly. There is an excellent healthcare system, and they also moved very quickly to build up a good track and trace system and — crucially — the Federal government laid out a plan for how the disease was to be handled, led by the infectious disease experts at the Robert Koch Institute.
By and large the different regions (which are responsible for healthcare delivery) executed the plan. It helped a great deal that Germany also has Europe's largest pharmaceutical sector, and many companies were engaged by the government very early on to produce needed reagents for treatment and testing.
In the end, luck had relatively little to do with it: fast reaction, close collaboration and good execution were the deciding factors. — Markdoc
Comments from America
I was in NYC for work the first 2 weeks of March. With Lombardy just going into tight lockdown, and Wuhan practically a ghost town, I was able to see Flying Dutchman in the Met! and I remember this gentlemen 2 rows behind me literally coughing through the entire opera . . .
That tells you all you need to know about NY’s response to COVID. Ares7456
I am one of those who was infected in New York in early March and still have “long Covid” symptoms as a result. It is clear that leadership failed at every level — Federal, State and City.
What is important is to try to depoliticise the issue and try to develop best practices for what we do now and what we do going forward. We see many countries in Europe now going in to a second lock down and we have the flu season ahead of us.
Lessons need to be learned in a non-partisan way and applied. Urgently. Dave_
Thanks for such an even handed and objective article. The point that everyone missed early on was the extreme contagiousness of COVID. This is what separates covid from other viruses. IMO this is why blame should not be assigned to any person or government, except maybe China who knew of the intricacies of this virus in late December.
I went to a concert in Brooklyn on March 5 (we live in Ct). My wife was sick 5 days later followed by the rest of the family a few days after. We went to the concert along with a quick dinner at a local restaurant acting with the appropriate caution of not touching doorknobs or other surfaces. We did not wear masks. We got it despite our awareness.
Thanksgiving is going to be a super spreader event in the US because of the ease with which covid is spread. Perhaps we should forgo our tradition this year. The White House ceremony for ACB is proof positive as to the highly contagious nature of covid. Opinionated
*Comments have been edited for length and style.
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