News/Op-Ed: COVID-19 Responses Around the Globe Highlight U.S. Challenges

by John Udabe

As the United States persists months into the pandemic, people have continually adapted to an ever-changing “new normal.” Places in the U.S. then began to open up, and then some inevitably began to close again. Some cities around the country are in a perpetual state of cautious phased reopening, while other places remain open as if a pandemic weren’t occurring at all. Around the world, other countries have responded differently to the virus. 

Some countries now appear to be over the hump, while others are resisting a second wave of cases. Some places have returned to nearly normal, others are on their way, and some expect a return in a distant future. Quick and enforced policy appears to have been the key element to striking the problem early, as can be seen throughout the world.

Let’s take a closer look at Taiwan. An extensive list published by the American Medical Association shows that Taiwan was one of the first countries to initiate protocols regarding the virus, with health screenings on flights from Wuhan beginning as early as December 31, 2019. In the months following, Taiwan began more extensive travel restrictions and public safety measures in response to the virus. Tours and transiting to China were soon suspended. 

Places like Taiwan would likely be cautious regardless of public policy. Taiwanese citizens are no strangers to being in the worldy neighborhood of deadly viruses. The effect of the SARS outbreak in the early 2000s, for example, which also originated in mainland China, likely remains in their memories.

By February 1st, roughly 4 million masks were being locally manufactured and sent out, with a set price of about $0.20 per mask, making them widely accessible. A few days later, the mobilization of resources, provided by government and private organizations, allowed for ten million masks to be made per day. 

By the beginning of February, a break in quarantine protocol for positive cases could warrant up to a $10,000 fine. An extended winter break allowed for preparation of returning students. As the months progressed, enforced entry bans and mandatory quarantining led to a relatively minimal effect from COVID-19. According to the CDC, as of last week, Taiwan currently has a reported 509 total cases, with seven deaths nationwide.

These swift actions have had beneficial repercussions to the country. A minimal effect was felt on education especially, and other than a two week buffer in February during winter break, no other time was lost for in-person instruction. School began as normal this school year as well. 

For a large time, Taiwan had launched the only professional baseball season in the entire world. And now, you can even catch a game in person at Taichung Intercontinental Stadium in Taipei after a temperature check and taking your seat in adequately spaced stands. Catching a live baseball game is a rare sight anywhere in the world, and as the MLB begins to enter the postseason in the US, it is a sorely missed sight.

New Zealand has also been notably effective in controlling the virus and is finally in the stages of reopening. Their COVID-19 response is obviously unique, as they are an island nation. Spikes in new cases have been minimal for the past few months, likely due to their strict lockdown measures. From May to August, new cases were extremely rare, and despite a small spike since then, it appears that New Zealand has the virus relatively under control. 

As of September 30th, New Zealand’s Ministry of Health states that there have been 1,480 cases, only about 200 in the last month, and 25 deaths total. Until Wednesday, September 23rd, citizens were not allowed to gather in groups greater than ten. Since April, new daily cases have been kept under 20, and cities are beginning to lift restrictions; the current plan is to slowly lift them and eliminate them completely within two weeks.

Egypt’s COVID-19 response, on the other hand, has been deemed ineffective by many. The World Health Organization states that the North African nation has accumulated over 103 thousand cases with over 5,900 total deaths to date. Toward the beginning of the pandemic, Egypt’s measures apparently failed to effectively contain the virus, which was comparable to other countries at the time, such as the U.S., United Kingdom, Italy, and others. 

According to the U.S. Embassy in Egypt, a government-mandated lockdown was initiated in March, when there were less than 500 cases reported. Public areas such as restaurants and mosques, as well as schools were promptly shut down, and a curfew and flight restrictions were put in place. Yet due to a number of factors, these actions were partly in vain. It is alleged that Egypt did not record data properly, inferring that a large number of cases went unreported and therefore void from precautionary measures. 

In addition to inaccurate numbers, many places in Egypt did not have proper resources available, especially in rural and urban areas, where clean water and proper sanitation is not adequate. A lot of effort by the government focused more on preserving the economy, namely in their oil, gas, and Suez canal infrastructure, and a failed social safety net has thrown many into poverty. The amalgamation of fragile healthcare, ineffective and ill-directed policy, diverse socioeconomic statuses, and contrasting geographic areas have all led Egypt down an undesirable path.

There is no faultless way to deal with a worldwide virus, especially in this day and age, where international travel has never been so conventional. The success of a pandemic response varies from country to country. Coming up with a standard worldwide response would be utterly futile, as effectiveness is contingent upon how a specific society functions. 

The United States is a demonstration of this: states, counties, even cities are reacting to COVID-19 policies differently. Some areas embrace the ideas of social distancing and mask wearing, while others are repulsed by the idea and see the virus as a hoax. 

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