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213 countries have reported more than 4.5 Million cases of COVID-19 (as of 16th May).[1] The fight against this pandemic has been very difficult, and governments around the world are struggling to save the lives of the people through different policies. Although most countries have failed to control the outbreak, some have been very successful in flattening the curve through prompt and proper steps. It would be wise to study the measures taken by these countries and even emulate some components of successful measures on a global scale, customized for different nations of course. 

Complete Lockdowns Amidst COVID-19

Lockdown, either partial or near-complete, has been the go-to measure for most countries during this pandemic. The intensity of lockdown measures can extend to closing down non-essential businesses and stopping public transport, depending on the risk of COVID-19 infection in affected areas.

China was the first country to implement a complete lockdown in its Hubei province on January 23, 2020. The first province to lockdown, Hubei was considered an experiment at that time. These harsh lockdown measures reaped great results, and by 19th March, no new cases were confirmed in that region. This success inspired other countries to resort to similar measures.

Figure: The COVID-19 curve in China since lockdown/ Source: China National Health Commission

After China, around 28 countries, including Bangladesh, have implemented complete or partial lockdown in an attempt to decrease the infection rate. Among them, lockdowns in India, France, Italy, New Zealand, Poland, and the UK have been the most restrictive.[2] This common strategy has worked in flattening the curve to some extent, as this comparative data from Italy illustrates. The city of Lodi went for a total lockdown from February 28th, but Bergamo did not lock down until March 8th. The comparative data shows the curve beginning to flatten in Lodi, while rapid growth occurs in Bergamo in the same time period.[3]

Figure: Confirmed COVID-19 Cases of Bergamo and Lodi in Italy/ Source: Leverhulme Centre for Demographic Science, University of Oxford & Nuffield College, UK

Although Lockdowns have been very successful so far in flattening the curve, they come at the cost of jeopardizing the economy as businesses shut down at alarming rates. For example, this quantitative model, demonstrating lockdown impacts on the UK economy, shows how revenue takes a nosedive with skyrocketing expenses.

Figure: UK public expenditure and revenue under 3, 6 and 12-month lockdowns (GBP billion)/ Source: Resolution Foundation analysis of OBR, Economic and Fiscal Outlook – March 2020, ONS, Public sector finances.

This model outlines consequences for a 3-month, 6-month and 12-month lockdown for the UK economy. Low revenue due to lower economic activity, low tax payments etc., knock revenue down by GBP 100 billion in the 3-month scenario and by  more than 200 billion in the 12-month scenario. Higher government expenses due to healthcare, higher unemployment and housing claims, default on guaranteed loans, etc., drive total expenditure up by GBP 85 billion in the 3-month scenario and by GBP 400 billion in the 12-month scenario.[4]

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Although this model only outlines the UK economy, the consequences of lockdown are bound to be similar almost everywhere, due to the factors causing these problems being the same across economies. So although lockdowns solve an immediate crisis, they might push economies to another long-term one by putting the entire system in jeopardy. 

Success in Controlling COVID-19

Although most countries have suffered great losses in lives and are left with a broken economy, some have managed to control the crisis and save the people in the process. 

New Zealand

New Zealand has been exemplary in tackling COVID-19. The country was very fast in responding to the crisis and immediately created a 4-level alert system that they have maintained very strictly.[6] The levels are:

  1. Level 1: The disease is contained in New Zealand
  2. Level 2: The disease is contained but risk of community transmission remains
  3. Level 3: High risk the disease is not contained
  4. Level 4: Likely the disease is not contained

The administration enforced an “elimination” strategy by putting everything into direct lockdown when they had reported only 120 cases and 0 deaths.

Figure: Total COVID-19 Cases in New Zealand/Source: Worldometers

This was different from the traditional pandemic planning, which focuses on mitigating and delaying the virus by gradual lockdown. New Zealand stopped reporting new cases at the end of April and has only reported a total of 20 deaths.[5] As of 15th May, New Zealand is in Level 2, and people are starting to return to their normal lives.

Vietnam

Despite sharing a 1,000 km long border with China, Vietnam has successfully navigated their way through the COVID-19 pandemic. As of 28th April 2020, the country had only 270 reported cases and no deaths.[7]

The country’s success can be accounted to its promptness in action. Just a week after the first confirmed case in Wuhan, Vietnam closed its borders with China and declared all schools closed until the end of the Tet Holidays. Airports were controlled from early March, and anyone entering the country was put in 14-day mandatory quarantine.

Figure: Total COVID-19 Cases in Vietnam/ Source: Worldometers

To control community transmission, this 3step classification was created:

  1. F0-Person testing positive: They are brought in and a list of all the people they have come in contact with are created
  2. F1-Person with Initial Contact: The people coming in contact with F0 are sent to 14-day quarantine immediately after testing and another list is created with names of people F1 has come in contact with
  3. F2-Persons in Contact with F1: F2 people are informed of this situation and are instructed to social distance and self-isolate for 14 days if possible

Through this flow of information from all parties, Vietnam has managed to contain the pandemic within their borders and has successfully managed to restart their economy eventually.

Taiwan

Due to its proximity with China, it was predicted that Taiwan would be one of the worst sufferers from the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the country has proved the experts wrong, and has reported only 440 confirmed cases with no new cases from 8th May (as of May 17th).[8]

Figure: Total COVID-19 Cases in Taiwan/Souce: Worldometers

The secret to Taiwan’s success is its previous experience with the SARS epidemic. The country took strong steps very early and got ahead of the curve. Travel ban was almost immediately imposed on China, Macau and Hong Kong. The government, anticipating a rise in demand of masks, started rationing the supply of masks in January. The country leveraged its immense production capacity to boost the supply of masks to 8 million from 1.8 million.[9]

The government used data collected from phone location to track quarantined people to ensure they kept themselves restricted from public gatherings. The government also provided ample support to the infected individuals by sending supplies to their doorsteps through local village leaders.

With all of these measures in addition to prompt action, the country was able to keep its cases to a minimum and save its people.

South Korea

South Korea successfully applied the lessons learnt from its MERS outbreak back in 2015. The MERS epidemic had infected 186 people and had left 38 dead.[10] The outbreak had left the country with extensive legal framework authorizing various emergency measures. 

Some noteworthy ones are: permission of tracing any suspected infection case through phone data and collecting credit card history from banks, mandatory quarantine in case of infection and releasing the reconstructed movements in the form of anonymous “travel logs” so people could learn the times and places where they might have been exposed. 

Figure: Total COVID-19 Cases in South Korea/Source: Worldometer

The country had also boosted its testing capacity in the post-MERS period by enlisting the private sector in creating test kits. This enabled authorities to run 10,000 tests per day in no time at all.[10]

These measures have so far been successful as the country reported only 4 new cases on April 30th. All of these were people coming to South Korea from abroad.

The Situation in Bangladesh

One common theme in all the successful countries is the fact that they all acted early and put forwards strict measures from the get go. Bangladesh was at an initial advantage because the administration had access to information from all affected areas on how to battle the pandemic. But the country failed to materialize this advantage and get ahead of the curve. 

The entire country was put in lockdown on 26th March, around half a month after the first case was detected. There have been reports of religious gatherings throughout the country, despite lockdown measures. Moreover, testing rates have been very low as the country is yet to achieve the 10000 tests per day landmark. Shops and garment factories have recently been opened up in an attempt to jump start the economy.[11]

The battle for Bangladesh is damage control at this point. Use of technology in contact tracing and tracking can be used to create danger zones for use by the general populace. As shops and malls have started to open up, the need for proper tracing is more than ever. Thermal scanning can be placed in garments, shops etc., to detect high temperatures and separate the infected from the healthy. Although this is an uphill battle, only proper use of time and technology can help the country recover from this.

Eqra Mohammad Resalat Ohee, Trainee Consultant at LightCastle Partners, has prepared the write-up. For further clarifications, contact here: [email protected]

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