This is fascinating for covid – read flu….
Before Covid hit, the UK was widely lauded as being one of the best prepared. We might have been - if it had been a flu pandemic.
Flu is not characterised by silent spread - people who do not have symptoms passing it on. This means testing is not so important in containing it. The onus can be much more on getting people who are ill to isolate to combat its spread.
Countries in East and South Asia, which had had experience of dealing with other major coronavirus outbreaks, Mers and Sars, were therefore much better prepared.
Over the past 20 years they had invested in their public health system so they could quickly increase testing capacity and had data sharing agreements between national and local agencies to enable fast and effective contact tracing.
For example, South Korea was detecting cases and responding to outbreaks by late January, while the UK was still talking about managing the spread of the virus.
South Korea has still had to deal with outbreaks and introduce restrictions, but the fact it did not get such a strong foothold to start with has helped keep infections down. The total number confirmed since the pandemic started is 20 times lower per head of population than in the UK.
The UK had nothing like this in place - local public health budgets have been cut in recent years. So despite the UK being one of the first countries to develop a test for Covid in January, it was not able to capitalise on that advantage. By 12 March the UK announced it was abandoning the idea of testing in the community.