Broad outline of how different countries have responded to COVID-19 is now emerging

At this post I will highlight insights from recent articles.

An April 10, 2020 Associated Press article is entitled: “Analysis: Virus shows benefit of learning from other nations.”

The article quotes a German researcher who expresses amazement that the United States, with all its wealth and academic prowess has sleepwalked into its unfolding disaster. A basic point in the article is that it’s helpful when countries learn from national experiences elsewhere in the world.

An April 11, 2020 CBC article is entitled: “Missed opportunities to address COVID-19 early may prolong response measures, experts say: Widespread testing, stricter isolation and border controls among measures seen as most effective.”

The article notes that the World Health Organization plays a key role in coordinating responses to pandemics at the international level, but it’s not always wise for countries to blindly follow its recommendations. In some cases, the article notes, scientific perspectives in one’s own country may provide more pertinent guidance. As well, the article highlights the effective and timely manner in which Taiwan, not a member of the WHO, organized its own response to the pandemic.

An April 11, 2020 New York Times article is entitled: “He Could Have Seen What Was Coming: Behind Trump’s Failure on the Virus: An examination reveals the president was warned about the potential for a pandemic but that internal divisions, lack of planning and his faith in his own instincts led to a halting response.”

Reuters is a good source for concise and comprehensive world updates about the pandemic. I also like to read articles from the New York Times such as the above-noted overview of dysfunction in governance at heart of disastrous approach to pandemic evident in the United States.

An April 11, 2020 New York Times article is entitled: “The ‘Red Dawn’ Emails: 8 Key Exchanges on the Faltering Response to the Coronavirus: Experts inside and outside the government identified the threat early on and sought to raise alarms even as President Trump was moving slowly. Read some of what they had to say among themselves at critical moments.”

The article highlights details regarding the expert advice that was circulating as the news from Wuhan was emerging.

The article refers to 80 pages of emails among U.S. government officials; click here to access the emails. The emails document detailed discussions of a kind that a news report or feature article is often unable to document, on account of space limitations.

An April 14, 2020 New York Times article is entitled: “The Huge Cost of Waiting to Contain the Pandemic: As the numbers show, the timing of social distancing can have an enormous impact on death tolls.”

An excerpt reads: “It has been estimated that deaths might have been reduced by 50 percent to 80 percent in New York City if social distancing had been widely adopted a week or two earlier.”

Taiwan and South Korea responded quickly

If we think of a continuum of responses to COVID-19, Taiwan can be positioned at one end of it and a number of other countries can be positioned at the other end.

In this regard, some relevant previous posts include:

Taiwan has got it right

Sweden remains relaxed about public restrictions in favour of its own, unique brand of cultural exceptionalism in response to new coronavirus

A related topic concerns the role of public health infrastructure as a variable that influences how well a given country responds to a pandemic such as COVID-19. In that context, an April 11, 2020 Guardian article is entitled: “Why is South Korea beating coronavirus? Its citizens hold the state to account: The widely lauded policy of testing, tracing and treating has its roots in Koreans’ expectation of high-quality public services.”

An April 15, 2020 Reuters article is entitled: “What you need to know about the coronavirus right now.”

An excerpt reads:

South Korea, among the first countries to bring a major coronavirus outbreak under control, is now taking steps to control the disease well into the future, relying heavily on technology and its hyper-connected society.

Tools deployed will include a smartphone tracking app for new airport arrivals; a so-called “smart city” database of thousands of people infected by the new coronavirus and their contacts; and electronic bracelets that track people breaking quarantine laws.

“We are in a lengthy tug of war with the coronavirus,” Health Minister Park Neung-hoo said, adding the battle could last months or even years.

Greece also responded quickly

An April 14, 2020 Globe and Mail article is entitled: “Greece learned from Italy’s and Spain’s mistakes and used rapid response to keep its virus deaths low.”

An excerpt reads:

Greece was able to keep its death count down by listening to its scientists and moving much faster than most other countries to lock down the economy. The government had ample political support to do so.

Greece’s new government, led by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, has mustered enormous political and popular support to put his virus-fighting agenda into action, said Takis Pappas, a Greek political scientist at the University of Helsinki who has written about Greece’s response to the coronavirus crisis.

“Mitsotakis went into the crisis with several advantages and was able to move very fast,” he said in an interview. “He made the case for a common response and there was no room for the Opposition to slow him down.”

China’s initial withholding of facts related to spread of COVID-19 in Wuhan has been noted

A March 29, 2020 New York Times article is entitled: “China Created a Fail-Safe System to Track Contagions. It Failed: After SARS, Chinese health officials built an infectious disease reporting system to evade political meddling. But when the coronavirus emerged, so did fears of upsetting Beijing.”

An excerpt reads:

This triumphant narrative obscures the early failures in reporting cases, squandered time that could have been used to slow infections in China before they exploded into a pandemic.

“According to the rules, this of course should have been reported,” Yang Gonghuan, a retired health care official involved in establishing the direct reporting system, said in an interview. “Of course they should have seized on it, found it, gone to understand it.”

An April 14, 2020 CBC article is entitled; “Beijing’s pandemic response is China’s ‘Chornobyl moment,’ critics say: Letter signed by 100 experts accuses China of making the pandemic worse by withholding facts.”

An excerpt reads:

Based on that false information Canada received from the WHO, the federal government did not close Canadian airports to Chinese travellers until relatively late in the process, allowing the virus to spread in Canada, Burton told Radio Canada International.

“I think that it is important that the fact of the matter should be laid bare so that we can avoid future incidents where Chinese misinformation leads to the loss of Canadian lives,” Burton said.

An April 10Ish 5, 2020 Associated Press article is entitled: “China didn’t warn public of likely pandemic for 6 key days.”

An excerpt reads:

Six days.

That delay from Jan. 14 to Jan. 20 was neither the first mistake made by Chinese officials at all levels in confronting the outbreak, nor the longest lag, as governments around the world have dragged their feet for weeks and even months in addressing the virus.

But the delay by the first country to face the new coronavirus came at a critical time — the beginning of the outbreak. China’s attempt to walk a line between alerting the public and avoiding panic set the stage for a pandemic that has infected almost 2 million people and taken more than 126,000 lives.

“This is tremendous,” said Zuo-Feng Zhang, an epidemiologist at the University of California, Los Angeles. “If they took action six days earlier, there would have been much fewer patients and medical facilities would have been sufficient. We might have avoided the collapse of Wuhan’s medical system.”

Other experts noted that the Chinese government may have waited on warning the public to stave off hysteria, and that it did act quickly in private during that time.

But the six-day delay by China’s leaders in Beijing came on top of almost two weeks during which the national Center for Disease Control did not register any cases from local officials, internal bulletins obtained by the AP confirm. Yet during that time, from Jan. 5 to Jan. 17, hundreds of patients were appearing in hospitals not just in Wuhan but across the country.

It’s uncertain whether it was local officials who failed to report cases or national officials who failed to record them. It’s also not clear exactly what officials knew at the time in Wuhan, which only opened back up last week with restrictions after its quarantine.

Winners and losers

An April 11, 2020 Guardian article is entitled: “Coronavirus: who will be winners and losers in new world order?”

An excerpt reads:

Many on the European left, such as the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek, also fear an authoritarian contagion, predicting in the west “a new barbarism with a human face – ruthless survivalist measures enforced with regret and even sympathy, but legitimised by expert opinions”.

By contrast, Shivshankar Menon, a visiting professor at Ashoka University in India, says: “Experience so far shows that authoritarians or populists are no better at handling the pandemic. Indeed, the countries that responded early and successfully, such as Korea and Taiwan, have been democracies – not those run by populist or authoritarian leaders.”

April 14, 2020 Cosmos Magazine article features additional overview of emerging trends

An additional overview of emerging trends is featured in an April 14, 2020 Cosmos Magazine article entitled: “Pandemic insomnia, flawed modelling and immunity passports: A digest of COVID-19 science, data, reporting and optimism @ 14 April.”

An excerpt reads:

“I think we shouldn’t forget about the mental health aspects of isolation,” said Australian National University infectious disease epidemiologist Meru Sheel, in an interview with Cosmos two weeks ago. “We know people who were isolated for SARS had severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder for a very long time. And that was a much smaller proportion of the world’s population.”

With research now appearing into the psychological impact of COVID-19, Sheel’s words are eerily prescient.

Just published in Frontiers in Psychiatry, a study of frontline Chinese medical staff during the frightening early stage of the coronavirus outbreak, in late January and early February, found that more than a third suffered from insomnia. Health care workers in this sleeplessness cohort recorded much higher levels of anxiety and depression.

The study’s authors note that the prevalence of insomnia is consistent with previous research into the psychological effects of the 2002 outbreak of SARS, a related coronavirus: 37% of nurses who worked with SARS patients experienced insomnia.

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