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The pandemic

Paranoid countries got Covid right

Sam Yeh/AFP/Getty Images

Paranoid countries fare far better in pandemics, says Niall Ferguson in Foreign Affairs. Take the US and the UK, both of which, on paper, were “exceptionally well prepared for a pandemic”. They were stuffed to the gills with contingency plans on how to handle medical catastrophes, and came first and second in the 2019 Global Health Security rankings. Yet when Covid-19 hit, their governments were slow to act. Instead, places such as Taiwan, South Korea and Israel triumphed.

“What these three countries have in common is a general sense of paranoia: a fear that they could be swept away by any number of threats.” For Taiwan it’s the ever-present threat of China, for South Korea its northern neighbour and for Israel a long list of unreconciled Arab states and terrorist organisations. If you spend enough time living in fear, you get good at thinking on your feet. Besides, catastrophes are unpredictable by nature. “There is no cyclical theory of history that can foretell the timing, the scale or the nature of the next big disaster.” It’s why societies so often jump from one crisis straight into the next. It also explains “why bureaucratic preparedness for any given type of potential disaster is worth only so much”.

Read the full article here (paywall).