Countries Around the World Conquering COVID-19
Updated: Jan 13
(United Nations COVID-19 Response/Unsplash.com)
There is no doubt that the United States has been hit extremely hard by the coronavirus pandemic. With over one million confirmed cases and over 85 thousand deaths, the United States has made headlines as having the most confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the world. In efforts to battle this novel pandemic, the United States has implemented several orders and regulations.
The White House’s response to the virus has been under serious criticism by the public, as critics claim that President Donald Trump did not take the virus seriously when it first came to his knowledge in January. Additionally, critics say that if the President had taken earlier action, the United States would not be in this grave situation today. Whatever the case may be, one thing remains clear: other countries appear to be doing much better than the United States in limiting case numbers.
How Countries Have Flattened the Curve
South Korea has had one of the world’s most amazing comebacks in the face of the coronavirus. In late February, the country exploded with 909 cases within the span of a day. Less than a week later, the country was able to cut this number in half and continued to make great progress until they flattened the curve entirely. Astonishingly, contrary to other nations, they did this without ever having to shut the whole economy down.
But how? For starters, the South Korean government acted immediately after the news of the country’s first case of COVID-19. They urged the mass production of coronavirus test kits, in the efforts to beat the spread of the virus. In fact, South Korea has tested more individuals for coronavirus early on than any other nation, enabling them to treat the infected population almost immediately after diagnosis.
Kang Kyung-Wha, South Korea’s foreign minister said, “Testing is central because that leads to early detection. It minimizes further spread and it quickly treats those found with the virus.”
In order to decrease the impact of the virus on hospitals and clinics, the country opened testing centers that were designed to test as many people as possible in a quick and orderly fashion. Additionally, officials opened drive-thru testing centers, in which patients are tested without leaving their cars. After an individual is tested positive for coronavirus, health workers try to find and test additional people who the infected individual may have come in contact with. People tested positive for the virus immediately go into self-quarantine while people who’ve tested negative simply continue on with their lives with only a bit more cautiousness.
South Korea’s system of efficient testing has been hailed by Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the head of the World Health Organization. He stated that their handling of the virus has demonstrated to be difficult but flattening the curve can be accomplished, urging countries around the world to follow South Korea’s tactics.
While people in most countries find it almost impossible to get tested for coronavirus due to a shortage of testing kits, everyone in Iceland has been guaranteed testing even if they don’t show any symptoms.
On January 31, the government began testing for high-risk individuals, otherwise known as individuals who have returned to Iceland from travel or people who were symptomatic. After the first confirmed case of the virus came out on February 28, Iceland’s response to the virus gradually became more meticulous. From the first group of people tested, 13% were positive for COVID-19.
Starting on March 13, the government issued another batch of testing from the general public. This time, the testing was open to all residents whether or not they displayed symptoms. The population screening issued an open invitation to 10,797 people along with a batch of 2,283 randomly-invited individuals.
The individuals who tested positive for the coronavirus were required to go into self-isolation until 10 days after they have surpassed their fevers or until they tested negative. With the use of contact tracing, any contacts of those individuals were also required to quarantine for two weeks.
Iceland’s main plan of attack was to stay “ahead of the curve,” as phrased by Icelandic Health Minister Svandís Svavarsdóttir.
What sets Iceland apart from other countries was their quick initiative. The fact that they acted very quickly upon the first news of the virus meant that the government did not have to impose such harsh restrictions on social gatherings. For example, although schools are closed, universities remain open. People who tested negative were allowed to continue working. While they still need to be two meters away from one another, people are allowed to meet in groups of up to 20.
Iceland’s efficient and speedy response to the virus was also made possible by the involvement of private sectors, notably the National University of Iceland and the biotech company, deCODE Genetics. The Icelandic government’s partnership with these two companies has proven to be very valuable in attaining new information about the virus along with creating preventative measures.
Kári Stefánsson, the CEO of deCODE Genetics, told Meg Tirrell in an interview on CNBC that if Iceland was the size of the United States, their tactic in flattening the curve would’ve been easier.
“The methods that we have used in Iceland to test widely, to sequence the virus from everyone infected, to bring about this kind of control… these are all methods that we learned from the Americans,” Stefánsson said. The fact that Iceland’s preventative measures in handling this virus were originally inspired by the United States is ironic.
After completing their strict level four lockdown measures, New Zealand is “squashing” the curve, as phrased by the Washington Post. The country has achieved the seemingly impossible: virtually eliminating the coronavirus.
The virus didn’t hit New Zealand until February 28 — over a month after the United States announced its first case. In that regard, time was on New Zealand’s side in combating the virus. On March 14, when the country reached 6 cases, New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Arden announced that people entering the country would be required to self-isolate for two weeks. This measure was seen as one of the toughest and most aggressive border restrictions in the world.
Similar to Iceland, New Zealand’s tactic was in the efforts to stay ahead of the curve. In fact, when Ardern announced the lockdown of the country on March 23, there had been 102 confirmed cases and yet no deaths. Some say that Arden was too stringent in the response to the pandemic, as even when the country’s cases began to lower, the Prime Minister was adamant in extending their level 4 (that being the most restrictive) lockdown orders in order to fully clear the risk of the virus. Nonetheless, the government still has a very high approval rating for its response to the virus with 87% of New Zealanders favoring Ardern’s methods.
Now that the country has flattened the curve, New Zealand’s economy is beginning to shift back to normal. But despite having virtually no cases, New Zealand is still being very cautious as they have transitioned to level 3 lockdown restrictions. With the more lenient lockdown restrictions in place, 75% of the country’s economy is back in operation.
New Zealand’s overcoming of this pandemic is truly remarkable. Yet according to Ardern, the country cannot go back to pre-COVID life just yet.
“That day will come, but it is not here yet.” This is the hope for every country around the world, and New Zealand has become one of the closest to making that hope a reality.
Will the world ever go back to “normal”?
New Zealand, Iceland, South Korea, among other countries have achieved the seemingly impossible by flattening the curve of this pandemic. Countries that have overcome their worst of the coronavirus are ones that acted quickly, aggressively, and most importantly, with the input of science.
The world has a long way until the end of this pandemic. Perhaps, The United States and much of the world can learn from and utilize the lessons and strategies used by countries like South Korea, Iceland, and New Zealand, who have accomplished what the United States will hopefully be able to do soon.