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Different Approaches, Different Results: How Countries Are Tackling Coronavirus

Public health experts hail East Asian countries while criticizing slow responses in Europe and United States

Countries around the world have adopted different strategies in their bid to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus. But how do we determine success at this stage of the game, when so much time likely remains on the clock?

“It is really important to recognize that we are still in the first half of this ordeal and it’s really hard to say that a country has excelled,” Judd Walson, vice chair of the Department of Global Health at the University of Washington, told The Media Line.

Take Sweden and Israel, for example. The populations of the two countries are similar in size, with the former having some 10 million residents compared to the latter’s 9-plus million. Nevertheless, the latest update from the Johns Hopkins coronavirus tracker on Friday showed that Sweden’s total confirmed coronavirus cases stood at just over 21,000, with 2,586 deaths and 1,005 recoveries. Israel on Friday had recorded about 16,000 COVID-19 cases, with 222 fatalities and 8,561 recoveries.

In fact, the Israeli government began enforcing extraordinary measures at the onset of the outbreak, including curtailing air travel and eventually locking down most of the country. Meanwhile, Sweden has been criticized for not imposing strict restrictions on movement. Stockholm has, by contrast, allowed schools and businesses to remain open, albeit with mandatory social distancing rules in place.

Walson believes that early action is key to containing infections so that the implementation of draconian measures is not needed.

“I think South Korea is an example of a country that at least in the first half seems to be performing pretty well,” said Walson.

Indeed, Seoul a moved quickly to ramp up testing and isolate people with infections, which allowed the country to contain the disease rather than play catch up.

As of Friday, the number of infections in South Korea stood at 10,774, with 248 deaths and 9,072 recoveries.

Other East Asian countries were likewise extremely on the ball early on during the pandemic, according to Yanzhong Huang, senior fellow for global health at the Washington-based Council on Foreign Relations.

“South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and maybe also Vietnam. They have been aggressive in terms of containing the spread of the virus. Aggressive testing, contact tracing, isolation measures that also have kept the virus under control,” Huang told The Media Line.

While suggesting that East Asian societies are generally more willing than those in the West to have certain freedoms curbed, Huang said that the experience gained from previous health crises prepared the region’s governments for COVID-19. These include the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2003 and, in the case of South Korea, the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) epidemic in 2015.

Huang specifically noted that wearing a mask when one is sick is the norm especially in Japan and South Korea, a reality that has helped East Asian countries seemingly overcome the coronavirus.

Unlike East Asia and Israel, though, Huang believes that Europe and the United States initially underestimated the severity of the contagion before having to quickly introduce regulations to mitigate the impact of the pandemic.

The United States leads the world in coronavirus cases and resulting deaths, with 1,069,826 infections and 63,019 fatalities as of Friday. The next five countries after the US in terms of total infections are in Europe: Spain, Italy, France, Germany and the United Kingdom.

The University of Washington’s Walson insists that, given its resources and infrastructure, the United States should have tackled the issue more effectively.

“We, by all means, should have been in a position to address this really well,” he said. “But what we’ve seen is stumble after stumble and we have just performed abhorrently.

“Countries that have been successful have been able to rapidly increase testing capacity and test lots of people very quickly,” added Walson. “The key is to figure out who is infected and quarantine or isolate them away from other people so that they can limit the spread of the disease quite rapidly.”

There are major differences between the United States and Europe, according to Arpit Gupta, adjunct fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research.

“The US experience is certainly looking a lot better in comparison with Europe as we’ve had more time to process what is going on,” Gupta told The Media Line, citing average death rates.

The fatality rate from the coronavirus in the US as of Thursday was 5.79%, according to the University of Oxford’s Center for Evidence-Based Medicine. By comparison, the figure in the UK is 15.80%, followed by Belgium at 15.65%, France at 14.47%, Italy at 13.60%, Sweden at 12.26% and the Netherlands at 12.20%.

Gupta attributed the discrepancy to the power of US states to devise and impose their own guidelines, in addition to their sharing of the economic burden with the federal government.

Here are the latest COVID-19 numbers for the Middle East and North Africa as of 7 am UTC on Friday.

CountryConfirmed casesDeathsRecoveredActive Cases
Afghanistan2,171642601,847
Algeria4,0064501,7791,777
Bahrain3,04081,5001,532
Cyprus85015296539
Djibouti1,0892642445
Egypt5,5373921,3813,764
Iran94,6406,02875,10313,509
Iraq2,085931,375617
Israel15,9462228,5617,163
Jordan453836283
Kuwait4,024261,5392,459
Lebanon72524150551
Libya6131840
Mauritania8161
Morocco4,4231709843,269
Oman2,348114951,842
Pakistan16,8173854,31512,117
Palestinian Territories344276266
Qatar13,409101,37212,027
Saudi Arabia22,7531623,16319,428
Somalia6012831542
Sudan4423139372
Syria4332119
Tunisia99441305648
Turkey120,2043,17448,88668,144
United Arab Emirates12,4811052,4299,947
Yemen6213
Total329,50011,460155,089162,951