The world’s largest economy is paralyzed. The planet’s most open societies are frozen in fear — with the Continent’s treasured freedoms blamed for accelerating the spread of the most pernicious contagion to afflict humankind in more than 100 years.
It is a crisis with no end in sight. And it is one that Europe’s top leaders failed to see coming.
They failed to hear the warnings that containment would prove ineffective. They failed to heed experts who said no country could fight the virus on its own, failed to perceive that the world’s most advanced health care systems were at grave risk of being overwhelmed. They failed to understand that drastic measures would be needed until Italy — patient zero among EU member countries — frantically imposed travel restrictions that impeded European leaders’ own movements.
How Europe once again ended up as a killing field of infectious disease, as it did with plague in the 1300s and influenza a century ago, is less a blame game of individual finger-pointing than a story of collective complacency, and of dangerous overconfidence. Politicians seeking to prevent public panic reassured themselves into inaction — failing to build rapid testing capacity or to stockpile medical supplies over the two months following the virus’ emergence in China.