Managing the worldwide COVID-19 crisis, where are we?

 

 

In the face of the current world crisis, confinement has proven to be the only solution to stop the spread of the coronavirus. However, not all countries have the same approach to confinement…for some, it was imposed too late. For others, confinement is too strict and for critics, confinement is simply not the most appropriate way to stop the pandemic.

 

Let’s take a brief look at the status of the countries most affected and their management of the crisis by the administrative authorities.

 

China, patient O

This is the country on which all eyes are focused. The Hubei province, where the virus was first detected, has lifted confinement after two months. At the end of March, there were  an additional 81,589 people infected and 3,318 victims in the 11 million inhabitant metropolis of Wuhan.

Containment measures for the 1st country affected were drastic:

  • Leaving the region was prohibited as soon as the government’s public announcement was made on January 23 in order to limit the spread of the virus within the infected region.
  • Obligatory masks were to be worn (remember that the wearing of masks is an extremely widespread practice for the Chinese population).
  • A freeze on interregional and international transportation was imposed (which included air, road and rail). The Covid-19 pandemic shows the significant role of transportation in the spread of a virus in the 21st
  • Regarding urban transportation networks: the circulation of automobile traffic was formally prohibited and public transportation came to a standstill for the duration of the confinement.

 

However, the same rules have not been applied in all countries. In fact, in some regions, there was a limit of a maximum of 3 errands per week, while in others, only one person in a household was allowed to go out.

 

Though drastic, the World Health Organization had praised the measures taken by China as being “very, very powerful” in “reducing” the risk of the virus spreading outside its borders long before considering coronavirus as a “public health emergency of international concern” in January.

 

Italy: Is there a link between confinement and the spread of the virus?

The Italian peninsula has the highest number of COVID-19 infections and deaths.  However, the government reacted by imposing a by-region confinement as of February 21.

Faced with the speed of propagation, the government (whose rigor has sometimes been criticized) had shown its responsiveness by wanting to impose measures beginning on the entire peninsula beginning on March 9.

  • As in the Wuhan region, schools and universities closed, and people were prohibited from going out except for professional, health and essential purchases.
  • Wearing of masks was obligatory for Italian police officers.
  • Businesses were asked to give their staff time off work
  • Prisoners were also denied visits from relatives.
  • Bars, restaurants and stores could still be open, but only from 8am to 6pm (as long as a minimum safe distance of 1 meter between customers was respected).
  • International sporting events still took place but behind closed doors.

 

These half-way measures nevertheless allowed the government to rethink their actions. Things now seem to be moving toward a gradual and more regulated deconfinement, an “intelligent isolation policy” with tests on the population repeated every two weeks: Those who are negative can work, while the others must remain in isolation.

At the end of March, there were more than 30,000 deaths from the coronavirus, out of more than 110,000 people infected in Italy. Experts estimate that there are between 700,000 and 6 million actual cases (asymptomatic included), or 10% of the population, which raises questions about the upcoming lifting of confinement.

 

The United States: the challenge of federalism

According to statistics released at the end of March, no state in the U.S. has been spared by the coronavirus. On April 1st, there were 210,000 people who tested positive for the virus, and 5,000 deaths. Some states, such as Florida, put measures in place rather late, with oftentimes contradictory rules such as confinement of the population but celebrations in authorized places of worship.

Florida has a high number of retirees as well as the highest number of infections in contrast to most states which imposed confinement.

Similarly, there are disparities in the implementation of these measures at the federal level.

  • In nine states, precautionary measures are partial and only imposed by district or city.
  • In five states, measures concern only the closure of schools and the prohibition of gatherings.

For those who wonder why confinement is a decentralized decision in the U.S., it’s because public health policy is not a federal but a state responsibility. However, recourse by the president is quite possible.

 

Singapore’s response

In the face of these many differences, Singapore remains a role model with a record number of 4 deaths out of 900 reported COVID-19 cases (out of an estimated population of 6 million) at the beginning of April.

But how did the insular city-state manage to be so sparsely impacted?

The answers are many:

First, Singapore has already dealt with a pandemic comparable to the coronavirus: SARS in 2003. This allowed the country to put strong response measures in place and demonstrate their resilience, and they are already known for their strict rules around security.

Technological tracking is also advocated by the Singaporean state. It’s carried out via video surveillance and the use of TraceTogether, a government smartphone app. There exists a true form of self-sacrifice on the part of the population toward the government in all matters relating to health safety.

Data is being used to fight against Covid-19, and that’s what makes it easier for people to cooperate. In fact, there is no reluctance toward this electronic recording of information which allows positive people to be identified and even goes so far as to warn smartphones to a nearby person who has tested positive.

If society is at stake, then the effort of each individual is called upon in order to achieve rapid deconfinement.

Confinement is only mandatory for those who test positive for the coronavirus, for those who have been in close contact with a positive case or for those returning from travel. This targeted confinement allows the economy to operate while preventing spread. Telecommuting is currently not mandated.

Regarding businesses, only bars and discos are closed and social distance regulations are also imposed.

One could also mention the wearing of masks, but this accessory is already so ingrained in the culture that it hasn’t been impacted by the fear of the coronavirus alone.

 

Singapore continues to be cited as an example for its exceptional crisis management. Where all countries have followed the rule of general confinement in order to preserve the entire population, Singapore has preferred to isolate positive cases and identified clusters.

Accountability on the part of individuals also plays an important role. This can be seen by the wearing of masks, which is not mandated but is a common occurrence – a common barrier that has been normalized in Asia for years. Each individual plays an important role in society, and this is particularly rooted in Asian culture with regard to health.