Explained International

How Countries are Responding to the COVID-19 Pandemic


The outbreak of COVID-19 disease continues to disrupt the world in multiple ways. Europe is bearing the brunt of the cases, while some Asian countries seem to have fought back the disease or prevented large scale breakouts within their own boundaries. Here is a breakdown of the pandemic across some nations.

Italy – High Number of Deaths Attributed to COVID 19

Italy has been the worst sufferer of the COVID-19 pandemic. The number of deaths crossed 2,158, the most after China. The number of official COVID-19 fatalities has more than doubled since 12 March 2020, reported Singapore’s Channel NewsAsia, when the number of deaths in Italy due to COVID-19 crossed 1,000 for the first time. Italy now has 27,980 infections, compared to 15,113 four days ago. 700 deaths were reported in just two days 16th and 17th of March, underscoring the crisis in Italy.

Earlier, United Kingdom’ Guardian had quoted Silvio Brusaferro, the president of Italy’s Higher Institute of Health to report that the average age of coronavirus victims was 80.3, with the majority having suffered underlying illnesses. More than 70% of those who have died were men, and the vast majority of deaths have been in the northern part of Italy.

United Kingdom – Utter Policy Chaos

The Guardian had yesterday reported 1,543 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United Kingdom. 55 deaths have been reported due to this disease. England reported 1,196 cases, and Scotland reported a total of 171 cases so far. Wales followed Scotland closely with 124 cases, while Northern Ireland has so far reported 52 cases.

United Kingdom’s response to the pandemic has been termed as confused. Last week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that the government would not try to track and trace the contacts of every suspected case, and would test only those admitted to hospitals. Further, it suggested people with symptoms should stay home and avoid travel. As reported by the Atlantic, the government felt that the peak of the pandemic is still weeks away, as people could become increasingly uncooperative and less vigilant if strict measures were enforced before the outbreak swings into high gear. The government feels that generating ‘herd immunity’ to reduce transmission in the event of a winter resurgence would be a better way to deal with this epidemic.

There has been severe criticism of the approach. CNN quoted the tweet of Richard Horton, editor-in-chief of the respected medical journal The Lancet: “What is happening in Italy is real and taking place now. Our government is not preparing us for that reality. We need immediate and assertive social distancing and closure policies. We need to prepare the NHS. This is a serious plea.”

Taiwan – A Success Story Gone Unnoticed

Taiwan’s handling of the COVID-19 has won much acclaim from around the world. Thanks to its strict measures, Taiwan has kept its cases to 59, with one death. Schools and workplaces are running mostly as normal, face masks are rationed but widely available, and supermarket shelves have enough sanitiser and toilet paper for everyone.

Early and stringent action starting from January 2020, when other countries were taking it very lightly, marked the effectiveness of their response to the epidemic. As the Sydney Morning Herald reported, the entire nation went on overdrive from the very beginning. Garbage trucks play out messages asking citizens to call a health hotline if they’re feeling ill. Check points at office buildings, night markets, bus stops and schools take the temperature of those entering and spray their hands with alcohol. Buses and taxis have clipboards showing how many times they have been disinfected that day, and elevator buttons are covered with plastic film that is regularly replaced. Stringency of the action can be gauged from the fact that on New Year’s Eve, the day China notified the WHO of mysterious new cases of pneumonia, Taiwanese officials began boarding flights from Wuhan, checking for fever and other symptoms before passengers could even leave their planes.

Singapore – Strict Clampdown Keeps COVID-19 at Bay

Singapore has managed to control the spread of COVID-19 very effectively, with just 243 cases reported as of 16 March 2020. Singaporeans were asked by their government to defer all non-essential travel, while border restrictions have been tightened continually to include all ASEAN states to reduce the growing risk of Covid-19 importation, reported the Straits Times. The government has also been repeatedly putting out messages for people to not panic, assuring them of sufficient supplies of all essentials.

Singapore was one of the first countries to impose restrictions on anyone with recent travel history to China and parts of South Korea. It has a strict hospital and home quarantine regimen for potentially infected patients and is extensively tracing anyone they may have been in contact with. The country also runs a text and mobile web-based software solution through which people placed under home quarantine could report their location to the government. Further, the government has taken punitive measures as well. – it charged a couple who gave false information on their travel history and taking away residency status from a person who breached his quarantine.

Nigeria – Massive Preparation, Element of Luck Against COVID-19

The first COVID-19 case in Nigeria was reported on 11 March 2020, with just 3 cases confirmed so far.  the confirmation led to activation of the country’s National Coronavirus Emergency Operation Centre, and the country had been preparing for more than a month. Public messages spread awareness on personal hygiene and cough etiquette. Health workers have been trained suitably, learning from the Ebola outbreak control, and skilled manpower have been deployed for contact tracing, and also treatment among other measures. However, Nature Magazine also reported that the director general of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Chikwe Ihekweazu, felt that the country has been lucky with the first confirmed case of the disease. The patient did not engage in self-medication, and the doctor he visited also took the patient’s travel history and was able to immediately connect him with the isolation center in Lagos that facilitated safe movement and testing, underscoring the need to cooperate with agencies at all levels and follow government advisories.

China – Mixed Signals on COVID 19 continue

China has been giving out mixed responses on the case. On 12 March 2020, Hubei province was finally given reprieve from the lockdown. However, as the South China Morning Post had reported, they were swiftly reinstated.

At 8.30am on Wednesday, the government of Qianjiang, 150km east of Wuhan (Hubei’s capital) – announced that all restrictions on the movement of people and traffic would be lifted at 10am, only to reinstate them at 10.30am. Subsequently, the Hubei government issued a statement outlining the different restrictions applicable each city within the province based on their particular situation. And unfortunately for the people of Qianjiang, despite having the lowest number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 of any city in Hubei, the provincial authority classed it as “high risk” and ruled that all public transport would remain suspended. It also stated that only a handful of businesses in key sectors were permitted to resume their operations.

Meanwhile, the demand for investigating authoritatively the bungle up made during the early days of the disease have started to surface. Former editor-in-chief of South China Morning Post Wang Xiangwei noted that the Chinese leadership’s credibility had taken a heavy beating at home and abroad because of its initial bungled handling of the outbreak, reminding many of the government’s poor early response to the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) outbreak in 2002. Covid-19 and Sars are believed to come from the same family of coronaviruses.