It seems that some countries have figured out not only how to flatten their coronavirus curves, but also how to send them plunge down.
From Slovenia to Jordan to Iceland, governments have taken early action to impose lockouts, test and locate thousands, isolate the sick, encourage social distancing and preventative measures such as wearing a mask and communicate honestly with the public.
These interventions have reduced the number of new cases and confirmed deaths from Covid-19, allowing leaders to reopen schools and businesses and reintroduce a sense of normalcy in everyday life. Some are now reporting no new confirmed cases or deaths.
In fact, they followed the gaming manual prescribed for such a pandemic, and – surprise, surprise – it worked.
“In the end, it is not magic. It’s public health in shoe leather, “said Thomas Bollyky, director of the global health program at the think tank Council on Foreign Relations. Nothing replaces speed and aggressive action better, he said.
What makes their exploits more impressive is how different the countries are. Greece, for example, is in Europe – one of the coronavirus hotspots in the world – but has managed to escape the worst despite the reception of large numbers of tourists and a busy Easter holiday.
Vietnam, meanwhile, has avoided a major epidemic despite a large land border with China and limited financial resources.
The inherent characteristics of a country therefore seem less important than the severity and speed of a government’s response.
This means that the world can learn many lessons from the little-known successes of coronaviruses. Here are just five.
Vietnam halted coronavirus epidemic with rapid and robust action
Vietnam is a low-income, densely populated country that shares a large land border with China, where the epidemic began. At first glance, this seems to make Vietnam extremely vulnerable to coronavirus.
But the Vietnamese government acted vigorously early, even before the World Health Organization said the epidemic was a global public health emergency and had yet to confirm a single death from the disease.
Her response to date has been successful in doing three things: lots of testing, lots of contract traceability, and lots of quarantine.
The country began developing tests almost immediately after confirming in January that three people returning from Wuhan, China – the source of the disease – had the disease. Vietnam has since tested nearly 300,000 people.
This sounds small compared to the millions tested in the United States, for example, but it is a major aberration when looking at the number of people tested by the government per confirmed case.
Vietnam has seen an increase in testing: first, it tested people with whom it was known to have traveled; he then went on to test the close contacts of these people; and finally, he started testing anyone with coronavirus-like symptoms.
It is only recently that the government has started testing extensively in major hotspots and at-risk locations, such as Hanoi city markets.
This plan made sense for one main reason, that concentrating testing resources on those around the original sick and isolating those with symptoms would effectively cut the epidemic at source.
The government has also ensured that few cases can enter the country by quickly ending flights from the most affected countries. Travelers at ports of entry also had to have a temperature check and had to self-report their condition. If someone lies on their health statement or resists screening, they could be prosecuted.
Those found ill, whether at the airport or elsewhere, were placed in quarantine facilities free of charge for 14 days. Self-isolation at home is not allowed in Vietnam because the government is concerned that people with the disease will pass it on to family members.
It also helps the public to receive and accept what health officials tell them, as many follow government directives such as social estrangement and wearing a mask. This only facilitates the broader response of the country.
Students starting this week are back in class, and the economy is about to reopen completely – showing just how successful an early and robust response to coronaviruses can be. Vietnam has not used sophisticated technology or new methods. He just did ordinary things extraordinarily well.
Slovenia has kept people at home and others away from the country
Slovenia, a country of just over 2 million people, had nearly 1,500 confirmed coronavirus cases and 100 deaths as of May 5. The relatively small epidemic is impressive, given that Slovenia is a growing tourist destination bordering Italy, one of the European epicenters of the epidemics.
Its success stems mainly from aggressive early foreclosure, quarantine of sick people and generous public spending.
The country’s first case was confirmed on March 4, and it took only two weeks for the Slovenian authorities to close schools and businesses and freeze public transport. The government also gave € 3 billion – 6% of Slovenia’s GDP – to citizens and businesses to survive the closure. (Last week, however, several hundred people protested the strict center-right government’s foreclosure policy.)
Quarantines have also helped keep confirmed cases low. At the beginning of April, most people entering the country – Slovenians and foreigners – had to go through a mandatory 14-day quarantine.
There were no dedicated facilities, only that person’s home or a hotel they were staying in. Those who were in quarantine should rely on family members, friends or volunteers to bring them food and other necessities. Such measures almost certainly prevented many people from traveling to Slovenia, which slowed down the number of potential infections.
The situation in Slovenia has improved to the point that businesses have already started to reopen and citizens can travel outside their municipalities. Schools will also resume on May 18. Major public events, such as concerts and football games, will still be suspended until a vaccination against the coronavirus is found.
What Slovenia has shown, therefore, is that aggressive government action and intervention can help prevent people from spreading the disease. Even according to the government’s own figures, it could do more testing, but for now, the current measures seem to be working.
Jordan made coronavirus plans weeks before arrival
Any list of countries that acted early to confront the coronavirus must have Jordan at the top.
The first confirmed cases of coronavirus in Jordan arrived on March 2. But five weeks earlier, the national committee to fight the disease – formed following the announcement of an epidemic in China – already had protocols.
These measures included designating which hospitals would treat infected patients and how, exactly, doctors would care for them. And the government, at the king’s request, has also passed emergency laws to allow the military to enforce strict lockdowns and a curfew.
These swift and energetic actions, in the minds of Jordanian officials, are what kept the country under 500 confirmed cases and about 10 deaths as of May 5. told Al Jazeera in April.
By mid-March, schools, businesses and government officials had been closed. Borders have also been closed, with Jordanian returnees expected to spend 14 days in quarantine in hotels.
The lockout continues, with a siren ringing daily at 6 p.m. across the country to remind everyone that they must be home until 10 a.m. the next morning. The use of vehicles is prohibited unless someone has a special essentials license, and all large gatherings – including prayer services and funerals – are prohibited. Individuals can be fined or sentenced to prison for disobeying these orders.
While the vast majority of people stay at home, the government tests about 2,000 to 3,000 people a day to monitor the disease and people in contact with infected people.
This does not mean that Jordan has not been followed. The country’s epicenter was in the northern city of Irbid, the second largest urban area in Jordan. About 450 people attended a wedding despite government advice against large rallies, and soon cases exploded there. However, the government quickly took action, imposing the toughest foreclosure measures in the country and cutting the city of more than a million people from the rest of the country.
Jordan’s aggressive measures are finally easing. The government said on Sunday that it had lifted all restrictions on economic activity. Many companies have returned to work, although some still want their employees to respect social distancing and proper hygiene. However, the schools will remain closed and the curfew remains in place.
What is clear, then, is that Jordan acted much earlier than most to contain its epidemic. Preparing for a problem and then following this plan really works. Imagine that.
Iceland tests, tests, tests
Iceland has turned testing and tracking into a new national pastime.
An island of more than 350 million people with a single point of entry – its international airport outside the capital of Reykjavik – Iceland was still unlikely to be devastated by coronavirus. But that didn’t mean that Icelandic officials could just ignore the virus. In fact, they did the opposite.
Iceland has tested 13% of its population with the help of a local company, DeCode, which has developed the most robust test and monitoring program in the world. Just look at the table below, which shows how Iceland has performed far more tests per 1000 people than many other countries.
People found sick or in contact with a sick person have been isolated until symptoms disappear or do not appear, thereby protecting the rest of the population from further spread.
This program has proven to be extremely valuable. Not so long ago, Iceland had more than 100 new cases a day. Now, some days present only a handful of new cases – or some days none. “I did not expect such a rapid recovery,” Thorolfur Gudnason, chief epidemiologist of Iceland, told Time Monday.
The nation saw around 1,800 cases and 10 deaths as of May 5.
Iceland was also able to curb the epidemic without shutting down its economy completely or shutting down all schools – decisions that had many skeptics.
People who were not in quarantine for having tested positive or having been in contact with a person tested positive were still allowed to go out, as long as they followed government guidelines on social distance and hygiene, such as than stay six feet apart and wash your hands for at least 20 seconds.
The Icelanders largely respected these protocols. There is also an app that users can use to get a better idea of local coronavirus access points.
There are a few caveats: bars, gymnasiums and swimming pools remain closed and public gatherings of over 50 have been banned until this week. And everyone returning from abroad must be quarantined for 14 days.
The country has therefore not yet completely returned to normal – but it is in a privileged position soon.
Greece has strengthened its struggling health system
Few expected Greece to weather the coronavirus storm particularly well. It has a struggling health system, an older population and an economy that is heavily dependent on tourism. If one country was likely to become the next European hotspot, it was Greece.
But five months after the start of the pandemic, the Hellenic Republic (yes, that’s its official name) has around 2,600 confirmed cases and nearly 150 deaths as of May 5.
Greece has achieved this by imposing a strict foreclosure, fostering social distancing and strengthening its healthcare sector.
The foreclosure began in mid-March, with street authorities telling people to stay at home. And that may not even have been necessary, since most accounts say that the majority of people followed government directives calling on people to stay at least six feet from each other and wash their hands frequently.
Many people have even chosen not to gather in large groups to eat during the Easter holidays, a major tradition in the country. However, officials have worked to avoid the temptation by shutting down large carnivals in major cities, as well as schools, restaurants and non-essential travel.
The government has also tried to deter tourists from traveling to Greece, by asking visitors to quarantine for two weeks before entering or paying a fine in excess of $ 5,000.
“We acted preventively,” Giorgos Gerapetritis, the Greek minister, told reporters in April. “We consciously preferred to make a significant financial sacrifice rather than sacrificing human life,” he said.
However, putting the Greek healthcare system back on track was perhaps the most decisive action. The country has increased the number of beds in intensive care units it has had since February by 70% and has added more than 3,000 hospital workers to cope with the expected influx of patients. Thousands of other positions are available, showing the resources Athens has devoted to rebuilding health care in the country.
Greece has done so well that it is already asking tourists to come to the country for the summer months. This worries some experts, because making the country work in the country could still spread the disease. In addition, tests are not widespread in Greece, and the possibility of keeping an eye on a larger epidemic could endanger the country in the future.
But for the time being, officials in Athens have apparently done a good job of limiting what could have been – and perhaps should have been – a much bigger crisis.
What the five cases make clear to the Council on Foreign Relations Bollyky is that countries “should act decisively, swiftly and aggressively.” Without this haste and effort, a large epidemic of coronavirus is almost inevitable.
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