A false sense of security

Marc Andreessen writes about how ill-equipped the United States is to handle the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and concludes that it’s due to the fact that the America lost its ability to “build” things, be it medical equipment, infrastructure, or financial mechanisms that’d allow the federal government to support its citizens better.

There’s a particular paragraph that stood out to me and made me think about a particular lack-of-readiness aspect of COVID-19 epidemic, not only in the US, but all over the world and in particular in Western Europe:

We see this today with the things we urgently need but don’t have. We don’t have enough coronavirus tests, or test materials — including, amazingly, cotton swabs and common reagents. We don’t have enough ventilators, negative pressure rooms, and ICU beds. And we don’t have enough surgical masks, eye shields, and medical gowns — as I write this, New York City has put out a desperate call for rain ponchos to be used as medical gowns. Rain ponchos! In 2020! In America!

It is indeed unbelievable how poorly is the United States prepared to face an outbreak such as this. European countries aren’t much better, with photographs of improvised hospital wards and morgues in worst hit areas all over the news, stories of medical professionals being forced to work without protective gear, etc.

I can’t stop but think that “the Western world” couldn’t fathom this would happen simply because of its false sense of security. We are the richest countries with highest medical standards, enormous amounts of money and best infrastructure in the world. If China, Taiwan and South Korea can handle it, surely we can, too. Sadly, some of our leaders didn’t take the threat seriously, with Donald Trump famously and foolishly comparing the outbreak to the common flu:

And that’s March, when signs that the virus is indeed extremely contagious were clearly visible already.

And it’s not like there weren’t any warning signs. The world knew it wasn’t prepared, and at least in the US the last 4 administrations didn’t do anything about improving the level of their country’s preparedness, and Donald Trump’s administration cancelled early-warning program to detect coronaviruses just months before the current outbreak. They even did pandemic-response-exercises that modelled a situation very much like the one we’re having now, but the administration ignored the findings.

Silliness of Trump aside, many European politicians minimized the threat as well, with UK or Sweden being the most visible examples, and I sincerely believe the real reason behind the delayed response was a belief that our advanced healthcare systems will simply “handle it.” Some—like The Netherlands or Germany—indeed avoided overcrowding its hospitals and ICUs. Others didn’t, like Italy, Spain or the United States, despite having one of the highest critical care beds per capita in the world.

If COVID-19’s outbreak could teach us anything, it should change the way we approach threats, and the way we heed to experts’ advice. Because our lives and our economies were turned upside down overnight, which means we’re not ready, and the sense of security is indeed false.

 · Amsterdam, Noord-Holland