In March, when the severity of the coronavirus pandemic was becoming clear but many of the world’s leading nations had yet to formulate a response to it, one country was springing into action. Within 10 days of identifying its first case, it went into lockdown: Its borders were sealed, schools and restaurants were closed, and face masks were made mandatory in public places, with some of the country’s most visible public figures, including its president and prime minister, sporting them to set an example.
Today, life there is slowly returning to its usual rhythm. Small shops are reopening and hotels, restaurant terraces, and hairdressers have been invited to join them. Should its infection rate continue to slow, schools and sporting events won’t be far behind. The remarkable thing is, this isn’t an especially rich country with a strong national health system, nor was it regarded as particularly well equipped to handle a pandemic in the first place.
When this pandemic ends, and when the reckoning over how the world responded invariably begins, Slovakia will likely be among those highlighted as a success story, whereas the United States—which was supposed to be the country best prepared for such a crisis—will be remembered as among those that suffered the worst. How Slovakia was able to flatten its curve comes down to more than just quick decision making and the widespread adoption of face masks. Perhaps the greatest lesson to be learned from Slovakia is of the value of leading from the front.