Different Countries Respond to the Pandemic

Maya Campbell, Staff Writer

COVID-19 has overtaken the world in just a few short months. The once seemingly small outbreak in Wuhan, China has quickly invaded the rest of the world, impacting travel plans, politics and the daily lives of millions.

This unprecedented time has called on leaders to make quick decisions and enact measures to reduce the spread and impact of the virus on their communities. As each country handles its battle against COVID-19 differently, lessons can be learned and can be used to guide other countries on how to best handle the pandemic.

On January 11th, 2020, the Chinese government announced its first known death caused by the virus and just nine days later, several other countries reported their first cases of COVID-19. On January 30th, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the novel coronavirus a global health emergency. The rapid spread of the virus has made it hard for countries to both control and understand the outbreak. Mary Murphy, Urban’s Infectious Disease teacher, said it is difficult to study an epidemic “because a virus always exists within the context of a culture…[and] in different places it may manifest differently.”

Many of China’s neighboring countries and regions, such as Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan, have acted quickly and forcefully. When it came to controlling the spread of COVID-19 in these countries, Panayiota Theodosopoulos, Urban’s Genetics teacher, believes their success was due to their previous experience. Theodosopoulos said various “Asian countries that had experience with other viral epidemics [such as the 2003 outbreak of SARS] have really robust public health initiatives that they started immediately.”

These places have restricted travel, with some going as far as to implement travel bans. Currently, Hong Kong is requiring that all travelers self-quarantine for at least fourteen days. In addition, the Hong Kong International Airport has begun testing arriving passengers. Short-term visitors have also been banned from entering or passing through Singapore as of March 23rd.

As countries like Singapore and Vietnam have experienced another recent surge of COVID-19 cases in early April, their governments have once again acted quickly, implementing new legislation surrounding public gatherings. Singapore has restricted the size of private gatherings to ten individuals or less, announcing that any person standing within three feet of another risks six months in jail. A gathering limit of more than 20 was also set in place by Vietnam’s rulers on March 28th.

South Korea has been praised for its ability to test individuals quickly and efficiently. “Speed of response is really important,” Murphy said, “[and] trusting scientists is really important and letting that guide a public health response.”

A CNN fact check on a statement of President Donald Trump regarding the testing between the United States and South Korea stated that South Korea has tested 1 in 142 citizens, whereas the United States has only tested 1 in 786 Americans. South Korea’s ability to track the disease closely due to rapid medical testing has resulted in a large decline in the number of cases across the country.

Another notable response is Germany for its ability to sustain its economy while reducing COVID-19 related deaths. In addition to a relatively low number of deaths, (just under 4,500, compared to just under 38,000 deaths in the United States as of Saturday morning, April 18th) the country’s ability to uphold its economy in the midst of the crisis is admirable. This is likely due to a government program called Kurzarbeit, which was tested on a large scale for the first time during the Global Financial Crisis of 2008. Through this program, the federal government pays two-thirds of an employee’s salary with the agreement of reduced wages and reduced work time.

In light of COVID-19, there have been motions to extend the coverage of the Kurzarbeit program to improve consumer confidence. Enver Casimir, one of Urban’s Economics teachers, explained that consumer confidence, measured by consumption levels, is one way to gauge how the economy is doing. Casimir said, “the idea is to put money in consumers’ pockets so that they can continue to purchase goods” and show confidence in the economy. By ensuring the majority of its citizens have a steady income, Germany’s economy has the means to continue functioning.

The reluctance to deal with the virus early on led United States officials to fall behind in their response, resulting in a shortage of COVID-19 tests, a severe drop in the stock market and the absence of a clear direction the United States should follow. President Donald Trump did not declare COVID-19 a national emergency until March 13th, while countries like Italy declared a national emergency January 31st, just a day after the first two cases of COVID-19 appeared. “There have been pockets of robust action,” Theodosopoulos said, but in the United States, “[there’s] a politicization of the issue so it’s come down to politics and there has been some level of delay and denial with dealing with the virus.”

With the failure of the federal government to take charge, local and state governments have taken actions to protect their communities. San Francisco Mayor London Breed declared a national emergency in San Francisco on February 25th. On April 1st, Governor Gavin Newsom announced a statewide shelter in place. The end date is to still be determined. On March 25th, Governor of New York Andrew Cuomo lifted the containment zone in the New York suburb, New Rochelle. The containment zone spanned a one-mile radius from Young Israel of New Rochelle, a local synagogue. Various businesses were closed and the National Guard was employed to deliver essentials and overall reduce the movement within New Rochelle. Only eight states have not issued a statewide shelter in place.

While President Trump has signed three bills proposed by Congress in regards to COVID-19 within a month, he didn’t sign the first until March 6th. The first bill, the Coronavirus Preparedness, and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, cost $8.3 billion. This money was directed to fund vaccination development and research, protective equipment for those treating and dealing with patients, an increase in COVID-19 testing, and loans for small businesses.

The second bill, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, was signed into law on March 18th. While its estimated cost is unclear, it’s assumed to cost more than the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Act. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act includes food assistance for children who are dependent on meals provided by their school, unemployment insurance for workers who have been laid off due to the virus, Medicaid funds for both local and state government workers, free COVID-19 testing for those that are unable to pay, and reimbursements for businesses who are giving workers paid sick leave.

The third bill, the CARES Act, was passed by the Senate on March 25, 2020. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act cost $2 trillion and extended financing for medical supplies, health insurance coverage for virus testing, offers student loans and financial assistance, along with offering loans for small businesses affected by the virus.

In light of Congress’s attempts to preserve what’s left of the struggling economy and bring relief to those most desperately in need, Kristjiana Gong, Urban History teacher and Model UN advisor, said it’s important “to be aware that many of the inequalities that we’re seeing now in the midst of the virus, existed before and will continue to exist.”

As all countries move forward with varying virus-combating strategies, everyone is united by a common goal. “It’s a time to take care of all the sick people and prevent as much suffering as possible, but also an opportunity to think about our future,” Theodosopoulos said.