Written by Sundas Amer
While COVID-19 cases in the United States continue to rise, other countries around the world have managed to contain the pandemic more effectively. A survey of countries in East Asia and the Pacific indicate that there are a few strategies that have proven successful in tackling the coronavirus. Foremost among these are lockdowns, contact tracing, and free and widespread testing. Below, we take a close look at a few different countries.
It is no secret now that the coronavirus originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan. Reports suggest that the virus was likely transmitted from an animal to a human host at a wet market in the city as early as fall 2019. The government itself took strict action in January 2020 and placed Wuhan and a few other cities in the Hubei province under quarantine. In a matter of a week, 56 million Chinese residents were under lockdown. The government constructed hospital facilities specifically for coronavirus cases, enacted quick and widespread contact tracing to identify and isolate those who may have come in contact with the virus, and provided coronavirus testing for flu-like symptoms at their many fever clinics. Schools and most businesses were closed, and workers from non-medical fields were enlisted to help with food delivery, contact tracing, and other necessary tasks. Residents were mandated to wear masks in public. The measures were largely effective; the lockdown was lifted in Wuhan in April 2020, and residents returned to some form of normalcy.
The Chinese case indicates that swift and sweeping measures work, although they may be interpreted as drastic by some. It also demonstrates the difficulty of completely containing the coronavirus in large countries. A recent mini outbreak in Beijing has prompted the government to reinstate containment measures and send parts of the city into lockdown.
While much smaller in size, Taiwan and Vietnam were high-risk for coronavirus spread because of their proximity to China. Their containment tactics differ from those utilized by China, but have proven successful.
At the start of the pandemic, Taiwan quickly closed its borders and banned exports of surgical masks. They ramped up mask production to increase domestic supply, and created an app that details the stock numbers of masks at grocery stores and pharmacies. This prevented congregation in large numbers at these locations.
Rather than instituting a country-wide lockdown, the government engaged in contact tracing and mobile tracking to identify those who had been exposed to the virus and ensure that they were properly quarantining. Citizens were tested and re-tested for the virus freely.
The country did not shutter businesses but required them to conduct temperature checks on and provide sanitizers to all patrons. Schools were not closed but required students to wear masks at all times, and erected plastic barriers to separate their desks at lunchtime. Daily televised briefings by medical officials provided accurate coronavirus information to all Taiwanese residents. The sum of these measures ensured that any coronavirus spread was maintained while allowing the country to continue in a mostly normal fashion.
Similar to Taiwan, Vietnam did not enforce a country-wide lockdown. It did take early actions to prevent its limited health-care system from being overburdened. This involved closing its long border with China, instituting travel restrictions, and conducting health checks at entry points. Vietnam led with quick coronavirus testing and contact tracing. The government set up quarantine centers in which travelers to the country and those who had contact with a confirmed case were required to remain in for 14 days.
Schools were closed from January till mid-May. Areas and hospitals that showed clusters of COVID-positive individuals were sealed off till there was proof of no new coronavirus infection in 14 days. Government officials communicated coronavirus information via text messaging campaigns and impressed upon residents to need to wash hands frequently, isolate, and wear masks.
Australia and New Zealand
The Pacific nations of Australia and New Zealand had slightly differing tactics on how to combat the coronavirus, but both have demonstrated positive results.
Australia shut its borders to non-citizens and non-residents early but did not enforce a country-wide lockdown. It closed down high-density gathering spots, such as bars, nightclubs, places of worship, and gyms, and limited restaurants and cafes to take-away only. At the same time, grocery stores, beauty salons, clothing stores, and chemists were allowed to remain open. Some Australian states closed schools and others closed their borders to restrict internal travel. Public gatherings were at first limited to 10 people, and later 2. The government encouraged people to step outside their homes only for essential activities such as groceries, exercise, and medical visits. Authorities paired these measures with widespread and frequent testing, that included people with mild symptoms and those suspected to be asymptomatic. As such, Australia was able to maintain a handle on what threatened to be an overwhelming coronavirus spread.
Neighboring New Zealand took slightly more severe measures. It imposed a strict lockdown with stay-at-home orders and limited vehicle travel. All businesses and public spaces except for grocery stores, pharmacies, hospitals, and gas stations were closed. The government ramped up contact tracing and coronavirus testing, and made sure to communicate with its residents through frequent text messaging and daily press briefings led by the prime minister. The result of these actions was that New Zealand was able to lift restrictions in a matter of a month, and life has largely returned to normal in the country.
These case studies have indicated that there are a few strategies that have demonstrably reduced the prevalence and impact of the coronavirus. Social distancing, contact tracing, widespread testing, and clear communication are key in eradicating the coronavirus. Countries that prioritized the opinions of their public health officials and scientists succeeded in avoiding mass death and widespread contagion. These stringent measures ensured that these countries were able to return to some form of normalcy relatively quickly. It is also clear that governments and local populations have to act in tandem to effectively tackle the coronavirus. This involves clear and accurate communication on the part of the government and public compliance with their directives. In sum, the global coronavirus pandemic has demonstrated the many benefits of learning from each other.