Updated: Apr 7
Welcome back to another Cellfie blog post. We are very excited to be sharing with you today the 2nd Place winners of the Sci4Teens writing competition's "Covid-19 Crisis Management Category". This outstanding article was written by Alexandra Scholefield and Fareeha Fareej and is a very deserving 2nd place winner.
This study aims to evaluate measures taken by a diverse range of countries to manage COVID-19, given their respective economic, diplomatic, and healthcare resources.
This study acknowledges the discrepancies in the comparison between countries in terms of preparedness and prompt response, due to the presence of many variables. Hence, generalizations proved in this study may not extend to every country of the same set in comparison with another. These factors, generally, include population size, demographics, and geography, but in the context of COVID-19, also encompass healthcare facilities, test procedures, quality of testing, reporting protocols, ways of attributing the primary cause of death to COVID-19.
Management by geographical region
Holistically speaking, countries located in the geographic east have been performing arguably better in terms of handling COVID-19 than the west. Although multiple factors can be considered to arrive at such a conclusion, the postulation was made particularly considering the maintenance of low mortality and transmission rates as reflected by data gathered by the WHO.
Among other reasons, such results may owe to the fact that Eastern countries are more experienced with epidemics such as SARS in 2003 and MERS in 2012 and hence are more equipped with a sense of alertness and preparedness. As a result, many countries implemented and maintained pandemic response frameworks, including vigilant monitoring systems, long before COVID-19, such as Singapore’s DORSCON system put in place during SARS. Past crises have also proven to be avenues for less wealthy countries to learn the limitations of their healthcare system, allowing them to act more accordingly during COVID-19. In contrast, the USA disbanded its pandemic response unit in 2018, despite having experienced H1N1 in 2009. The East tended to recognize the threat of epidemics reoccurring, thereby implementing tried and tested systems that heavily aided in COVID-19 response.
Culture may also play a part, albeit one that is exceptionally difficult to quantify. With cultures of mask-wearing in countries like Japan, South Korea, and China, compliance with mandatory mask laws was a given, and politicians were able to act with minimized backlash. Politicized response to COVID-19 in the US further fuelled division and prevented a cohesive, unified approach to the pandemic.
Swift, flexible management
Apart from prior experience, countries with accessible and affordable healthcare systems should have been able to respond the quickest and most effectively, with better distribution of medical supplies and healthcare beds. Despite this, Spain, with the world’s 7th best healthcare system, had extremely high mortality rates in March, higher than even China and Iran. This was in large part due to a lack of a flexible and speedy reaction to curb the spread of COVID-19 as it hit the European Union, despite Spain’s EU neighbour, Italy, having exceptionally high transmission rates.
On the other hand, countries with less developed healthcare facilities were able to manage COVID-19 by initiating simple yet effective responses through frugal innovation, best reflected by African nations. For example, Senegal quickly developed and widely administered cost-effective ten-minute test kits that do not require complex laboratory equipment. Moreover, the African Union had instituted the African Medical Supplies Platform to circulate medical supplies such as protective gear and test kits throughout the continent. Although the European Union had the Joint Procurement Agreement, the heavy bureaucratic processes caused some countries to gain more than others through parallel alliances.
Improvement of management
Suffice it to say, more prepared and/or developed countries can make use of their existing systems to manage COVID-19 and also be flexible enough to make adjustments where necessary. For example, nation-wide alert levels can be constantly updated considering the latest scientific facts on COVID-19 and information about the effectiveness of intervention measures taken in every country, like New Zealand quickly adopted in March. Countries with decreasing adequacy of hospital facilities, like beds or rooms, during COVID-19, can consider repurposing hospital spaces and establishing community care and recovery facilities in public spaces, taking Singapore as an example. The idea of forming neutral external organizations to facilitate the distribution of vital medical supplies to regions that lack them should be considered within realistic means. As seen from Africa, when established successfully, and existing diplomatic ties are leveraged upon, external organisations may make for greater ease and equity in the securing and distribution of vaccinations, following their development.
Prioritizing healthcare over the economy is crucial; the quicker the response, the swifter the economic recovery. Furthermore, the COVID-19 financial crisis can be handled by ensuring business continuity, for example, through the digitalization of business operations.
Overall, given that COVID-19 is mainly transmitted through respiratory droplets and contaminated surfaces, the vitality of social distancing, mask-wearing and maintaining personal hygiene is indisputable as advocated by WHO. To this end, governments must increase public awareness on the severity of COVID-19 and legislate WHO guidelines as regulations and ensure policed enforcement.
Vogel, Gretchen. “‘It’s been so, so surreal.’ Critics of Sweden’s lax pandemic policies face fierce backlash” Science, 6 October 2020, https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/10/it-s-been-so-so-surreal-critics-sweden-s-lax-pandemic-policies-face-fierce-backlash
Chaudhry, Rabail. Dranitsaris, George. Mubashir, Talha. Bartoszko, Justyna. Riazi, Sheila.
“A country level analysis measuring the impact of government actions, country preparedness and socioeconomic factors on COVID-19 mortality and related health outcomes” EClinicalMedicine, Research paper, vol.25, 21 July 2020
Beech, Hannah. “Tracking the Coronavirus: How Crowded Asian Cities Tackled an Epidemic” The New York Times, 17 March 2020
J. Bollyky, Thomas. M.Patrick, Stewart. “Improving Pandemic Preparedness:
Lessons From COVID-19” Council on Foreign Relations, Independent Task Force, No. 78, 2020
Salmon, Andrew. “Why East beat West on Covid-19” Asia Times, 15 May 2020
Mormina, Maru. M. Nsofor, Ifeanyi. “What developing countries can teach rich countries about how to respond to a pandemic” The Conversation, 16 October 2020
Yong, Clement. “Coronavirus: 5 things to know about the strategy to increase Singapore's healthcare capacity” The Straits Times, 28 April 2020
“Everyone Included: Social Impact of COVID-19” United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 2020
Blackmore, Mark. Di Maio, Mario. “Lessons we can learn from New Zealand’s COVID-19 strategy” Development Asia, 15 July 2020
“Covid pushes New Zealand into worst recession in years” BBC, 17 September 2020