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As COVID-19 swept through the world, different governments were forced to apply strict measures in order to ‘flatten the curve’ and contain the outbreak. Some countries recognized the dangers of the virus much quicker than others and acted fast. Others attempted to try different measures.
The ones affected the most
Wuhan, China, was where the COVID-19 outbreak started in late December 2019. This lead to a subsequent lockdown of Wuhan as well as other cities all over mainland China. China conducted over 300,000 tests by early April and has been able to take control of the situation.
Wuhan recently marked its first full week of no new infections, and the country slowly started easing the lockdown by opening up malls and shops as well as other businesses. Over 63,000 patients recovered and were discharged since the commencement of the virus.
“The war against this epidemic has reached a new stage. We must return to normal … Take off your masks and let your dreams soar!” its chairman and CEO, Li Shaobo, CEO and Chairman of biotech company Sinocare.
However, the battle against the virus came with a painful tragedy, with over 3000 lives lost. The government is now facing a new struggle – a crippled economy that needs restarting and the difficulty of preventing another outbreak.
Italy was the first country in Europe to be heavily affected by the virus. Italy’s urban hub, Milan, became the epicenter of the outbreak’s spread. Lombardy, the Northern district of Italy, had a cluster of cases in late January that quickly spread through the country, forcing Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte to impose a nationwide lockdown on 9th March 2020. The quarantine restricted the population’s movement for non-essential purposes; travel and movement were prohibited for almost every purpose except work, grocery shopping, and visits for health reasons. In addition to this, restrictions mandated the closure of non-essential shops and businesses such as restaurants, bars, hotels, clothing stores, etc.
Italy has started actively testing people for COVID-19 and has conducted over 200,000 tests, which included all the residents (3000 people) of the small town Vò. This was a pilot test to check whether whole-community testing could slow the spread of the virus. Initially, prime minster Conte blamed the country’s high number of infections on the vigorous testing, claiming that Italy’s high-number of cases was due to the many tests conducted.
Sweden stood out amongst European countries for conducting what the nation’s government calls “a huge experiment.” Following the UK’s lockdown, Sweden became the largest country in Europe to not impose a nationwide quarantine. The Scandinavian country has left schools open, public transport operating as normal and people still leading a very similar life as before. While authorities did ban large public gatherings and closed universities, they’ve kept restaurants and bars open.
While this seems like a risky step, at this stage, the country’s situation seems manageable, with just 2000 reported cases and few deaths. Sweden is conducting a similar experiment that was meant to take place in the UK – the ‘herd immunity’ experiment.
Healthcare experts worldwide have criticized Sweden’s relaxed approach; in epidemiology, the concept of herd immunity is highly criticized and believed to be an extremely dangerous tactic to tackle the outbreak of an unknown virus.
South Korea initially faced a very similar to Italy; what initially started as a few cases resulted in a dramatic escalation in just weeks. In mid-February, South Korea has over 5000 cases.
“Test, test, test,” – World Health Organisation director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
South Korea’s centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted mass, rigorous testing as well as contact tracing and quarantining the sick or those who have been in contact with the infected.
“[South Korea’s] extensive testing is a very valuable tool to both control the virus and understand and measure the effectiveness of the responses that are taking place,” said Michael Mina, assistant professor at the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics at Harvard University. “It’s allowed individuals to take matters into their own hands and make social distancing decisions on their own.”
At this stage, South Korea’s method has seen success, as the number of cases across the country reduced drastically, amidst a huge rise in cases across the world – include devasting deaths and the escalating number of cases in the United States and the UK.