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When America was caught unawares

          Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World by Fareed Zakaria, W. W. Norton Company, US $26.95, Pp 308, October 2020,           ISBN 9780393542134

Covid-19 is not the first pandemic humanity is facing, nor the last one. When pandemics and plagues struck nations and communities in the past, they were not prepared. We can also argue that they did not have means in the past to get prepared or to fight back those pandemics. In recent decades, there have been strong and powerful voices warning us of unexpected pandemics and we have all the financial and medical resources to become prepared and prevent large-scale deaths. In Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World, Fareed Zakaria argues that we could have at least prevented large scale deaths if we had given attention to preventing and fighting back such a pandemic. The United States alone devotes almost three-quarters of a trillion dollars to its defense budget every year. Yet we are unprepared to defend against a tiny microbe. It may well turn out that this viral speck will cause the greatest economic, political, and social damage to humankind since World War II. In other words, we needed only a tiny part of our defense budgets to get ready to face this pandemic. But that was not our priority.

Zakaria says that we are already in the post-pandemic era, not because we have left corona virus behind, but because we have crossed a crucial threshold. Almost everyone alive had been spared from experiencing a plague, so far. But now we know what a pandemic looks like. We have seen the challenges and cost of responding to it. The Covid-19 pandemic could persist, but even if it is eradicated, new outbreaks of other diseases are almost certain to occur in the future. With this knowledge and experience, we now live in a new era: post -pandemic. Zakaria discusses ten lessons the covid-19 has taught us (but we may not have learned these lessons) — the most important being prepared for such catastrophes. He argues that we could have been better prepared if we had the right list our priorities. Another lesson is that we cannot leave everything to market forces. Market forces are not enough, and other forces should also intervene. Yet another lesson is that both people and governments should listen to experts and experts should listen to people.

However, another big lesson covid-19 has taught us is that what matters is not the quantity of government but the quality. If we do not have a quality government, we will not be prepared for future pandemics. Zakaria says that it would be easy to blame President Trump, and he deserves a great deal of blame for downplaying the pandemic as it was arriving, remaining passive once it took hold, and continually undermining the guidelines of his own scientific advisors. He never was able to coordinate action across federal agencies and with the fifty states. But there is more to the story than just an inept White House. There were missteps across the government. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention failed by sending out faulty test kits and initially discouraging the public from wearing face masks. The Food and Drug Administration dragged its feet on fast-tracking procedures that would have allowed private labs to bridge the gap in testing. The Department of Health and Human Services was unable to roll out its own system of mass testing. Many countries, from Germany to South Korea to New Zealand, emerged from their lockdowns with strong systems of testing and tracing. Not the United States.

Zakaria argues that America’s role as the global agenda-setter often masks its weaknesses. Americans and their institutions end up being the ones to set the standards and evaluate the world. Americans seem to focus on metrics that highlight the strengths of the US system while downplaying those that reveal its weaknesses. Before the Pandemic, for example, Americans were satisfied with country’s research facilities or the huge amounts of money spent on health care while forgetting about the waste, complexity and deeply unequal access that mark it as well. but the pandemic has exposed the weakness of our research facilities.

Covid-19 has changed how we live and how we look at the world around us. Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World is a remarkable analysis of how Covid-19 has changed us and the world around but also how we should act in this changed world. Zakaria persuasively argues that America was not prepared to face the pandemic. He argues that time is running out to prepare for the coming crises. He argues that we need to improve the quality of our government and research facilities. Zakaria provides new insights and perspectives on what is wrong with the way we govern the country. Without a doubt, Zakaria is an unmatchable political commentator. This is an original, provocative, and insightful work we should all read.

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