America’s response to the variant highlights both how much progress we have made over the past two years — and how much work remains

When scientists discovered the highly mutated Omicron variant of the coronavirus last month, it set off an eerily familiar chain of events, writes Emily Anthe in the New York Times.

Health experts held somber news conferences that raised more questions than answers. Officials imposed travel bans that very likely came too late. Virus trackers filled in their maps as the variant was reported in country after country. And the rest of us waited, with increasing unease, to learn more about the threat we were facing.

The same sequence unfolded nearly two years ago when the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, was first discovered. In those early weeks of 2020, the United States proved to be woefully unprepared for the challenges ahead, starting with the most fundamental of tasks: detecting the virus.

“We had a delay of one to two months before we were even able to identify the presence of the virus,” said Dr. Charles Chiu, an infectious disease specialist and microbiologist at the University of California, San Francisco. “And by that time, it had already circulated widely between multiple states and from coast to coast.”

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