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Reproduced from Branko Milanovic using GHS Index and Worldometer data; Chart: Axios Visuals

Some of the richest countries in the world — the ones that had been considered the best prepared to handle a pandemic — turned out to be the ones that suffered the highest death rates.

Why it matters: The SARS-CoV-2 virus has proven that preparedness needs to be global, and coordinated.

By the numbers: Just before the pandemic, Johns Hopkins University, the Nuclear Threat Initiative, and the Economist Intelligence Unit released a World Health Preparedness Report ranking every country in the world on its pandemic preparedness.

  • The highest-ranked country was the U.S. — but now, only eight of the 153 countries in the study have a worse death rate than the U.S.
  • The U.K. came in second for preparedness; its death rate is even worse than America's.
  • Thailand and Sweden were ranked equally on preparedness, but Thailand has seen only 1 death per million people, while Sweden has seen 1,078.

The big picture: The virus spread in large part because of two big failures. First, the Chinese government failed to contain it and tried to cover it up. And second, the U.S. failed to take on the global leadership role that most pandemic specialists expected to see.

  • Once the virus was spreading internationally, it traveled first along the world's densest travel and trade corridors, and proved most lethal to the elderly, who are overrepresented among rich countries.

Where it stands: The Biden White House has promised to rejoin the World Health Organization; help lead the Global Health Security Agenda; and create protocols for coordinating and deploying a global response to any future pandemic.

  • That's all part of a broader attempt to fight the current pandemic and put the world on a stronger footing when the next one emerges.

What's next: As Princeton economist Angus Deaton points out, future deaths may well fall more heavily on poorer countries, especially if rich countries vaccinate themselves first.

  • For the time being, however, even after accounting for possible measurement and reporting errors, the virus has disproportionately hit the richest and best-prepared nations.

The bottom line: The preparedness report made it very clear that most countries were ill positioned to combat a global pandemic. What no one predicted was that the best-prepared would end up seeing the highest death rates.

Go deeper

Jan 30, 2021 - World

Science helps New Zealand avoid another coronavirus lockdown

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern (L) visits a lab at Auckland University in December. Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images

New Zealand has avoided locking down for a second time over COVID-19 community cases because of a swift, science-led response.

Why it matters: The Health Ministry said in an email to Axios Friday there's "no evidence of community transmission" despite three people testing positive after leaving managed hotel isolation. That means Kiwis can continue to visit bars, restaurants and events as much of the world remains on lockdown.

Updated 15 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

  1. Health: CDC director says number of U.S. Omicron cases "likely to rise" — Two years of COVID-19 — Prior coronavirus infections may not protect well against Omicron.
  2. Vaccines: Data demonstrates most-vaccinated counties less vulnerable to worst of COVID — Omicron adds urgency to vaccinating world — Omicron fuels the case for COVID boosters.
  3. Politics: Nevada to impose insurance surcharge on unvaccinated state workers — New Jersey GOP lawmakers defy statehouse COVID policy — Oklahoma sues Biden administration over Pentagon vaccine mandate.
  4. World: Vaccine mandates lose steam in the U.S. while Europe doubles downWHO: Delta health measures help fight Omicron — COVID cases surge in South Africa in sign Omicron wave is coming.
  5. Variant tracker: Where different strains are spreading.

Rep. Stephen Lynch tests positive for COVID-19 after getting second dose of vaccine

Rep. Stephen Lynch. Photo: Greg Nash/The Hill/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) tested positive for the COVID-19, but remains asymptomatic, after receiving the second dose of the coronavirus vaccine, his office said Friday.

Why it matters: Lynch's case stresses the importance of continuing to social distance and wear a face mask even after getting vaccinated.