Your Monday Briefing

A romance steeped in international espionage landed Alina López Miyares, a 62-year-old teacher with dual American-Cuban citizenship, in a Cuban prison. As in the best spy stories, big questions remain: How much did she know about the web of espionage that entangled her? Where were her loyalties?

In July 2014, a man boarded a plane in Monrovia, Liberia, and flew to Lagos, Nigeria. He felt sick with a fever when the trip began and was in worse shape by the time he landed. The Nigerian authorities took him to a hospital, where doctors eventually diagnosed Ebola.

From that first patient, infections soon began to spread in Lagos, Africa’s most densely populated city. But two months later, the crisis was over. Nigeria had no more Ebola cases, and fewer than 10 people, including the man from Liberia, had died.

How did Nigeria prevent an epidemic? It wasn’t science, or at least not science as people typically define it. It was more basic than that.

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Nigeria succeeded through a combination of good governance and organizational competence. Officials conducted roughly 18,500 in-person interviews with people potentially exposed to the Ebola virus and then moved those who seemed to be at risk into isolation wards. They were released if they tested negative, and moved to a different isolation ward if they tested positive.

More recently, these same kinds of logistics have helped some countries fare better against Covid-19 than others. Canada’s rate of deaths per capita is only 37 percent of the U.S. rate, thanks partly to tighter travel restrictions. Britain and Israel are now doing better than continental Europe not because of laboratory discoveries but because of more effective vaccine distribution.

Many of the world’s biggest challenges today, like Covid and climate change, might seem to be technical problems. Further technical progress is important, but there’s a far more important part to the equation. As with Nigeria’s Ebola management, politics remains the most powerful mechanism for human progress.

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