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The Brutal Governance Lessons of 2020

In addition to ushering in a massive economic and public-health crisis, COVID-19 has fully upended longstanding assumptions about effective governance. There are important lessons to be learned from the fact that some of the world's richest countries have fallen on their faces while some of the poorest have shined.

OXFORD – COVID-19 has offered some tough but useful lessons about governance. Many wealthy countries did not manage the crisis as well as anticipated, whereas many poorer, populous, and vulnerable countries exceeded expectations. The difference raises important questions not just about public-health management but also about the state of governance in the world’s largest and oldest democracies.

Just before the pandemic, a coalition of major foundations published a Global Health Security Index (GHSI) that ranked countries’ capacity to prevent, detect, and report an infection, and to respond rapidly to disease outbreaks. “Unsurprisingly,” a data journalist with Statista observed at the time, “higher income countries tended to record better scores in the index.” Topping the list of “countries best prepared to deal with a pandemic” were the United States and the United Kingdom.

One year later, those rankings appear farcical. According to a study published in September, “The 10 countries worst affected with COVID-19 in terms of deaths per million are among the top 20 countries in terms of their overall GHSI scores.”

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