How the west lost COVID

Again and again, in conversations about the pandemic spanning months, the metaphor that Mina returned to, with an almost uncomfortable single-mindedness, was war. “This is a national emergency, this is a war that we’re in, and instead of putting generals in positions of power, we’ve deferred to academics,” he said. “Imagine in World War II, if that was how we treated it all — that we couldn’t make a single mistake.”

The metaphor, though vivid, also suggests its own answer to the question of pandemic lethargy and indifference. “Especially in a country like the U.S., but also in the other European countries — we haven’t felt discomfort in a long time,” Mina says. “I remember saying back in February or March, ‘I don’t think the U.S. is going to fare well here,’ for no other reason than we won’t even be able to know and to recognize that something bad is happening to us. And I think that has not abated in the United States or in Europe. We have continued to just think that something bad isn’t happening to us, and that there’s an out somewhere — that, of course we’re going to solve this next month. It’s always been one month away. And as long as the solution is always one month away, the urgency isn’t there. And I do believe that this is a symptom of a bunch of nations and societies that really haven’t had to deal with adversity on our shores in a really long time. We are uncomfortable with making the hard decisions that have to be made.

“China made really hard decisions — some could say they infringe on the rights of their population. That seems so insane to a bunch of privileged countries, that we would have allowed that kind of thing to happen on our shores. Because that would have been us admitting that something absolutely terrible was happening to us.”