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Why this Pandemic Is Different

From failures of leadership to the rise of conspiracy theories, the COVID-19 crisis resembles past pandemics in myriad ways. Yet it is likely to break the mold in one crucial – and perhaps fateful – respect: rather than upending the established order, it is likely to reinforce the trends that brought us to this point.

TEL AVIV – Long before people and goods were traversing the globe non-stop, pandemics were already an inescapable feature of human civilization. And the tragedy they bring has tended to have a silver lining: perceived as mysterious, meta-historical events, large-scale disease outbreaks have often shattered old beliefs and approaches, heralding major shifts in the conduct of human affairs. But the COVID-19 pandemic may break this pattern.

In many ways, the current pandemic looks a lot like its predecessors. For starters, predictable or not, disease outbreaks have always caught the authorities off guard – and the authorities have often failed to respond quickly and decisively.

Albert Camus depicted this tendency in his novel The Plague, and China’s government embodied it when it initially suppressed information about the novel coronavirus. US President Donald Trump did the same when he minimized the threat, comparing COVID-19 as recently as last month to seasonal flu. As an official in Camus’ novel said, the plague is nothing but “a special type of fever.”

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