What if China hadn’t silenced early reports of the outbreak in Wuhan; what if Europe had responded faster to the first cases; what if countries had heeded scientific warnings that such a widespread epidemic was even possible.

Politics was the Achilles heel that cut across the ideological divide. Chinese president Xi Jinping’s Communist Party saw emergence of the virus as a risk to its image. Western leaders such as U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who initially dismissed the pandemic as something that could be controlled without stringent containment measures, feared what a u-turn would do to their economies and their credibility with the public.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s pronouncements, with a constant eye on the November election, have been a dizzying roller coaster ride — from denial of the Covid-19 threat to recognizing it could claim tens of thousands of lives.