Comparing the coronavirus response worldwide

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Dorota Dziki
Writer

Do you think Britain should have taken more from other countries’ handling of the virus?

As coronavirus cases in Europe have begun to drop and countries have started emerging from lockdown, we can retrospectively evaluate the different tactics used all over the globe to combat the Covid-19 pandemic. The success of these tactics is key, as some scientists now warn of a potential second wave.

On 11 March 2020 the World Health Organization (WHO) declared coronavirus a global pandemic. The virus, which is believed to have originated in Wuhan, China, has so far claimed over 41,000 lives, and the death toll continues to rise internationally despite a decrease in new cases in Europe and Asia. China was the first country to employ lockdown measures in an attempt to stop the spread of the virus, and this proved successful as after three months the number of cases has dropped considerably. Consequently China began lifting its strict rules in April and Wuhan, the original virus epicentre, re-opened after being sealed off for 76 days. However, on 13 June cases spiked again in Beijing resulting in a ban of tourism in the capital. This raises the question of whether we are coming out of lockdown prematurely.

Italy, considered the initial European epicentre for infection, is also doing considerably better and has begun lifting lockdown measures. After imposing a national quarantine on 9 March, which included a ban on walking or exercising further than 200m from home, it has now opened borders for international travellers, as well as re-opening bars, restaurants, tourist sites, and more after observing a gradual decrease in new cases. However, until recently Italy continued to have around 60 deaths daily, while other European countries such as Germany have suffered a fraction of the deaths, perhaps due to a quicker implementation of lockdown.

Boris Johnson, one of 12 world leaders to test positive for coronavirus, initially announced that the UK would use “herd immunity” to fight the virus, claiming that infecting most of the population would lead to immunity. After a public outcry and the lack of scientific proof that catching coronavirus makes you immune to getting it again, the UK followed its neighbours and went into lockdown on 23 March, announcing fines of up to £100 for breaking these rules. Perhaps due to the economic impact and jobless claims rising by 70% in April, the UK began to lift lockdown on 28 May. This was considered too early by some as there were still around 1000 new cases of coronavirus daily and members of the government’s scientific advisory group were concerned about the risk of infections rising again. With Johnson’s convoluted messages about whether staying at home is essential or only encouraged, paired with the scandal of his aide Dominic Cummings breaking lockdown himself and travelling over 400km to meet family, many Brits now view the restrictions only as suggestions rather than a necessity.

With the potential risk of a second wave of Covid-19 it is important to look at countries whose preventative measures have been successful, for instance New Zealand which has been praised for acting quickly. Early in March mass gatherings such as the national remembrance service for the Christchurch mosque shootings were cancelled, and travellers returning to the country had to self-isolate for 14 days. This was followed by a strict four-week lockdown. These quick actions resulted in New Zealand recently announcing that they have eliminated coronavirus with only 22 deaths, and have lifted most of their restrictions.

Notably, Sweden is the only country in Europe to not go into lockdown, rather adopting a tactic relying on voluntary social distancing while keeping schools and businesses open. However, Dr Anders Tegnell, who is behind this tactic, admits that Sweden’s death toll of over 4600 is still too high and compared to its closest neighbours, who did implement lockdown and have had less than 600 deaths, this tactic seems not as effective. It is believed that Sweden has not passed its Covid-19 peak yet.

As Europe comes out of lockdown, it is important to consider the rest of the world. Brazil is now at the height of their infection and death rates, with around 30,000 new cases daily, and they have passed the UK in having the second highest death toll in the world. This is perhaps due to a lack of a clear response from President Bolsonaro, who has been relying on state and district governments to implement quarantine as they see fit. Both Brazil and the US have faced public backlash and anti-lockdown protests in the last months, with many Americans deeming lockdown “unconstitutional”. The US has observed over 15,000 new infections daily but have chosen to terminate their relationship with the WHO as they were “unable” to make any reforms, as Donald Trump said, despite receiving funding.

Things in Europe seem to be returning to “normal” slowly, but we have to accept that it will be a new normal, most likely with face masks and social distancing. It is important to understand, as the WHO warns, that there is no definitive evidence suggesting that those who got coronavirus once are now immune, and so we must all be prepared for a potential second wave. Overall the countries which implemented a strict lockdown early on seem to have witnessed the least cases and the lowest death toll, and we can only hope that we are now more prepared for another potential pandemic in the future.