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Photo: Julian Simmonds/WPA Pool/Getty Images

One country was easily the best-prepared in the world to respond quickly to and mitigate the spread of an epidemic, according to the 2019 Global Health Security Index: Great Britain.

Reality check: When the coronavirus struck, the U.K. had arguably one of the least effective responses among rich countries, despite decades of preparation for just such an event. Its death toll ranks behind only the U.S. and Brazil.

The big picture: Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been heavily criticized for failing to prioritize the virus early on, and his scientific advisers came under fire for initially advising against lockdown.

  • Since then, the government has been criticized for not ramping up testing capacity quickly enough and for its struggles on contact tracing.

Flashback: Jeremy Hunt, who served as the U.K.'s health secretary from 2012 to 2018 and now chairs the parliamentary Health and Social Care Select Committee, ran a "huge tabletop exercise" to simulate a pandemic over three days in 2016.

  • That produced a series of recommendations, Hunt told the FT's Payne's Politics podcast. None of them had to do with testing capacity or PPE, because the U.K. was basing its preparations on pandemic flu, Hunt says.
  • When a real-life pandemic struck, the scientific body that advises the government proposed either a herd immunity strategy or lockdown. Widespread test-and-trace wasn't considered.
  • "There was a kind of groupthink in our approach to pandemics that had conditioned us all to think that the way you respond to a pandemic is the way you respond to a flu," he says.

Between the lines: The U.K. had years of preparation to call upon, but it could have also looked around the world and learned from best practices elsewhere.

  • "South Korea was doing what it was doing in January and February, but it wasn't until April that [the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies] started to model" that approach, Hunt says.

Worth noting: The U.S. was second in the 2019 rankings on rapid response to an epidemic, while Brazil was also in the "most prepared" category.

  • Some countries much farther down the rankings — Uruguay (81), Vietnam (73) — have fared much better.

Go deeper

Oct 18, 2020 - Health

Infectious-disease expert: Scott Atlas' herd immunity claims are "pseudoscience"

Michael Osterholm, a renowned infectious-disease expert, said on NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday that a "herd immunity" theory reportedly invoked by one of President Trump's favorite coronavirus advisers "is the most amazing combination of pixie dust and pseudoscience I've ever seen."

Context: Senior administration officials, who spoke anonymously with reporters last week in a call scheduled by the White House, said that allowing "those who are at minimal risk of death to live their lives normally to build up immunity to the virus through natural infection" is the "most compassionate approach that balances the risks and benefits of reaching herd immunity," per the New York Times and Washington Post.

The startup that wants to disrupt big internet providers

Maura Losch/Axios

A new startup backed by funding from AOL founder Steve Case and Laurene Powell Jobs wants to break up broadband monopolies across the country.

Why it matters: Internet access has been crucial during the pandemic, but it's not ubiquitous, and it can be both slow and unaffordable in swaths of the country.

1 hour ago - World

Top general: China's hypersonic missile test "very close" to a "Sputnik moment"

Gen. Mark Milley. Photo: Rod Lamkey-Pool/Getty Images

Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned Wednesday that China's test of a hypersonic missile is "very concerning" and "very close" to the kind of "Sputnik moment" that triggered the Space Race during the Cold War.

Why it matters: The comments by America's top uniformed general underscore the depths of U.S. concerns about China's rapid military expansion and development of advanced weaponry.