Yet what is clear is that Britain had time. According to specialists, academics and Johnson’s political opponents, he wasted it. They say an opportunity was missed in February to stock up on vital equipment when the international competition was less fierce. And then, over the course of a critical period in March, the virus got away from the people running the country.

Even though they knew the infection was spreading unchecked in the community, it was still more than a week before the government shut the pubs and schools, and 11 days before the fuller lockdown was brought in.

“We closed down too late—that’s clear from the maths,” said Martin McKee, professor of European public health at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, who is advising the World Health Organization on the pandemic. “English exceptionalism has been really damaging.”

Based on minutes from parliamentary committee hearings, conversations with senior government ministers and officials, data comparisons with other countries and conversations with virus experts and doctors, this article charts the opportunities that were missed to prepare for the worst and prevent the spread of the disease.