Mar 12, 2020 - World

Countries meet the coronavirus unprepared and on their own

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The world was not prepared for a pandemic. When one struck, international coordination broke down rather than ramping up.

Why it matters: The lack of preparedness has left countries, including the U.S., scrambling to craft a response once the novel coronavirus had already reached their shores. The dearth of global coordination could both exacerbate the crisis and make it more difficult to recover from.

Driving the news: President Trump's decision to shut down travel from Europe last night blindsided the EU, which responded with a terse statement noting the lack of "consultation."

  • Some Europeans saw politics at play in Trump's exemption of the U.K., which has a significant outbreak.
  • But the Europeans have also struggled to put forward a united front. France and Germany were both criticized by Brussels for limiting exports of medical gear to other countries in the bloc.
  • Countries across the continent are rolling out new and diverging measures — closing schools, canceling public gatherings — to stave off the "Italy scenario."

The U.S., meanwhile, has been slow to adopt best practices from countries like South Korea, particularly around testing.

  • Trump has emphasized that the U.S.' response will be the strongest in the world because it has "the best scientists and doctors."
  • But Lisa Monaco, who served as Barack Obama's former Homeland Security adviser (2013–2017), tells Axios the U.S. squandered the time bought by China's aggressive (if belated) containment efforts and the travel restrictions Trump imposed on China.

"As we saw this coming out of China in December, there should have really been ramping up," says Monaco, who was warning that a pandemic like this one might strike long before it did.

  • “If you’re thinking about a worst-case scenario here, you would be thinking, do we have sufficient testing capacity? How are we going to have surge capacity for hospitals and the health care system? What is going to be the need for personal protective equipment?”
  • What we're now seeing, Monaco says, is "the foreseeable result of neglect of this issue as the top threat that it is.”

Flashback: When Ebola was ravaging West Africa in 2014, the U.S. led a global effort to contain it there and prevent a global pandemic.

  • This virus is far more contagious, but there have thus far been relatively few cases in sub-Saharan Africa and other areas where health infrastructure is weakest.
  • That's likely to change. But when it does, wealthy countries battling their own outbreaks are unlikely to deploy scarce resources to the developing world — particularly in the current nationalist climate.

The big picture: That's particularly concerning given this virus won't truly be contained anywhere until it's contained everywhere, says Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations.

  • "Every country is going to be at a different phase of this challenge. I just don’t know how much excess capacity or bandwidth anyone will have if they’re facing Italy-like situations."
  • "China, if it is in fact past the worst, might have some excess capacity."

The bottom line: "It’s just shocking that here in this country, we dealt with it so badly that we’re not in a position to help ourselves, and we’re not in a position to help others," Haass says.

Go deeper

What the U.S. can learn from other countries in the coronavirus fight

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Note: Cases are shown on a logarithmic scale; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios

The countries that have most successfully fended off the novel coronavirus have mainly done it with a combination of new technology and old-school principles.

Why it matters: There's a lot the U.S. can learn from the way other countries have handled this global pandemic — although we may not be able to apply those lessons as quickly as we'd like.

Go deeperArrowMar 28, 2020 - Health

Coronavirus outbreak has likely already pushed multiple countries into recession

A trader at the New York Stock Exchange on March 5. Photo: Michael Nagle/Xinhua via Getty) (Xinhua/Michael Nagle via Getty Images

Benchmark U.S. 10-year Treasury yields fell to under 0.5% with the 30-year below 1% for the first time ever, oil plummeted by as much as 31%, Australia's ASX index lost 7.3% (its worst day since the financial crisis) and markets in Asia and Europe cratered.

What happened: The economic shock of the coronavirus looks set to worsen as more places around the world, including the U.S., may institute quarantine measures that would severely reduce consumer activity.

News Shapers: Cybersecurity

Rep. Mike Gallagher (L) and Sen. Angus King discussing the Cyberspace Solarium Commission. Photo: Cheriss May for Axios

On Tuesday morning, Axios White House and politics correspondent Margaret Talev hosted a series of one-on-one conversations to discuss cybersecurity and the news of the day.

Watch the recorded livestream here.

Sen. Angus King and Rep. Mike Gallagher

Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) and Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.), leaders of the Cyberspace Solarium Commission, announced the release of a report that calls for the creation of a coherent cybersecurity policy at the federal level. They outlined the need for clearly delineated rules around deterrence against cyberattacks, as well as the need for increased U.S. engagement with the international community on these issues.

Sen. Angus King

  • On a sense of urgency on this subject within the legislature: "There’s a tipping point ... people realize how serious this threat is because of IoT, 5G and autonomous vehicles. The threat is very real and getting more serious."
  • Why Congress has to get this right: "Structure is policy. If you’re going to have messy incoherent structure, you’re going to have messy incoherent strategy."

Rep. Mike Gallagher

  • On working across the aisle in cybersecurity policy: “I see an enormous bipartisan consensus, and I don’t see that changing regardless of who wins the election.”
  • On taking a stand in cybersecurity policy: “I would reject any source of moral equivalence between us and Russia and China. [Our cyber policy] is defensive, and it’s in partnership with our allies. We are acting in concert with the free world.”
Lisa Monaco, former Homeland Security and Counterterrorism adviser at the White House

Former Homeland Security and Counterterrorism adviser to President Obama, Lisa Monaco highlighted the intersection of cybersecurity and pandemic disease and underscored the critical need for international collaboration.

  • On the risks of disinformation during a time of crisis: "The biggest threats we face today don’t know any borders. ... We’re seeing an epidemic of disinformation when it comes to coronavirus [and] we should anticipate other state actors to use this opportunity to sow discord and division."
  • On the importance of multilateralism: "You can’t successfully isolate bad actors if you don’t bring other countries along with you … [right now] we’re on the outside looking in and that’s a bad place to be."
Christopher Krebs, director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Director of CISA at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Christopher Krebs discussed how the cyber issues are being communicated to the public, as well as topics around election security.

  • On cybersecurity in the context of coronavirus: "We’re trying to separate the tactical information of today from the strategic issues ... how are we managing things like telecommunications."
  • On election fairness: “Our preparations and protections for the 2020 election are far beyond our preparation for the previous election. ... This will be the most secure and most protected election ever in the United States of America.”

Thank you, Bank of America for sponsoring this event.