It’s unclear exactly why cases are accelerating now, but probably the weather has a lot to do with it. Contrary to my expectations (at least so far), several wealthy countries in Western Europe that had previously contained the pandemic, like France, the Netherlands, and Switzerland, have since lost control. Some are already resorting to a second lockdown. It seems that even in generally well-governed European states, governments were too lax in reopening the economy (especially indoor dining) and reluctant to impose new controls when infections started to rise. As we have seen over and over again, the slightest hesitation can lead to disaster. The virus spreads extremely fast, and contact tracing systems can easily be swamped if there are too many cases to manage, leaving only brute force lockdowns as a last resort, with all their significant drawbacks.

As China has demonstrated several times, a hair-trigger aggressive response is far more effective than half-hearted half measures. Every time it has seen a flare-up of the virus, the state has stepped in with gargantuan mass-testing and isolation efforts — testing entire provinces in a matter of days, and throwing any positive cases in mandatory quarantine, as well as strict lockdowns if community spread gets started — to root out and squash the virus. It’s a coercive approach, but it gets the bad part over as quickly as possible. As a result, its economy is recovering relatively quickly — while the U.S. and European countries remain in the doldrums, with much of their citizenry still voluntarily avoiding human contact for eight months and counting.

Several democratic countries, like Taiwan, New Zealand, and Korea, have also managed to keep the virus contained without such draconian measures.