Why Asia Recovered and Europe Collapsed Due to The Outbreak?
Healthcare systems in the West are collapsing. And the pandemic is still spreading. While Asian countries where the virus started managed to contain it quickly and control its spread. What did they do? How did they act? And how can individuals and governments benefit from their experiences?
We need to trace the virus back.
On December 31st, 2019, WHO was notified that cases of pneumonia of unknown etiology were detected in Wuhan. At that point, Taiwan which is only 130 km away from China started acting immediately. by screening all passengers coming from Wuhan to find out if they had a fever.
On the 5th of January 2020, Taiwan authorities tracked down all people who have visited Wuhan in the past two weeks and tested them for 26 types of viruses. Isolating whoever is suspected of being sick or having a fever at home, and following-up on their medical condition.
On January 20th when individual cases started appearing in other regions in China.
The Taiwan Centers for Disease Control, CDC, operationalized the Central Epidemic Command Center, and the National Health Command Center, NHCC, established by the Taiwanese government in 2004, following the outbreak of SARS at that time. The Ministry of Health was appointed as the leader of all entities and centers concerned with controlling the new disease. This mobilization happened when they hadn’t yet learned that the fever and pneumonia symptoms spreading were a prelude to a new pandemic.
Taiwan implemented technology perfectly. They integrated the National Health Insurance database with the Immigration and Customs database and established Big Data Analytics.
What does that mean?
They analyzed big data on the population to be able to identify coronavirus patients in a timely manner. This enabled them to send immediate alerts to hospitals and clinics about the suspected cases of coronavirus, based on a number of data, including, for instance, data on patients’ trips in the past weeks, as well as on symptoms and other information that allowed the government to identify cases quickly and accurately. Their strategy was prompt, specific and clear. Identifying and containing patients and protecting public health, no matter the cost to the government.
Among the strategies that helped Taiwan contain the coronavirus through the Big Data Analytics was their identification of people who had recently visited hospitals and clinics for respiratory issues, but they were tested negative for the flu.
This result made the authorities suspect them of testing positive with coronavirus. Otherwise, why would they have difficulty breathing without having the flu?
They asked all these patients to undergo new tests. The surprise was 1 out of 113 of them tested positive with COVID-19.
Within 3 days, the Taiwan authorities had developed a smart system for mobile phones in cooperation with the National Health Insurance Administration, and the Ministry of Interior’s National Health Agency, The government inspected the travel records for the past two weeks to identify people arriving or even having passed through, China, Hong Kong, and Macao. They also launched the quarantine registration system and it works like this:
The passenger goes to the airline’s counter at the 3 countries’ airports And scans a QR Code.
That takes him to an online form. He fills out the health declaration form, Then, the system analyzes his data and compares it to the data available with the government.
Should a falsification of data be discovered, he will be given a 5,000$ fine. When he lands in Taiwan, he will receive a text message including the entry permit, which allows him to quickly go through passport check-in, if he was a minimum risk case. If he was a high-risk case, the government places the patient in complete isolation.
In order to effectively contain the virus, the government provided all this information to hospitals, clinics, and pharmacies to ensure their cooperation in reducing the spread of the virus.
Dealing with emergency crises requires a prompt response.
If you want to be right before starting to act, you will not succeed.
This is an important lesson, which Michael J Ryan, Executive Director of WHO’s Health Emergencies Program, had learned. This is what Taiwan did. They dealt with the virus with remarkable speed Even before COVID-19 was declared a pandemic on March 11th.
On January 22nd, Taiwan canceled tourist visas for Wuhan And announced a decision to issue a fine of up to USD 100 thousand to those who spread rumors. In the following days, it provided masks for all its citizens And set their price at $0.27, and imposed a ban on mask exports and a fine of $167 thousand for anyone who raises prices or exploits people. It also increased its production capacity to 4 million masks per day and developed a plan to make it 10 million within one month only.
The government also decided to share patient records with clinics, hospitals, and pharmacies to identify and test suspected cases. Then, they imposed a travel ban on healthcare personnel and disinfected government buildings, schools, and public places And issued disinfection instructions for such places.
South Korea sets an example of their experience. Until March 1st, they were the second country after China in terms of the number of cases. Imagine that! However, they managed to contain the spread and flattening the curve.
From March 10th to March 23rd, they were able to reduce the average number of infections to 106 cases per day, after having been 851 cases per day at the disease’s peak. South Korea adopted an effective strategy based on testing the largest possible number of people.
Up until March 23rd, they had tested 383 thousand people. That’s 6,627 thousand tests for every 1 million of the population. They also set up stations on roads to test people in their cars.
A drive-through of a kind. Test results came back within hours. This helped lighten the load on hospitals and made it less likely for people to get infected.
They also turned public phone booths to testing rooms and contacted people who test positive for COVID-19. Immediately, they transfer them to quarantine rooms.
In order to secure enough testing kits, they reduced restrictions for approving testing equipment. After a week, the first company started the production of testing equipment for the virus. Followed by another company after two days.
At the end of February, Korea was testing thousands every day.
Singapore focused on testing. The government was keen on manufacturing testing kits inside the country. Their detection accuracy was 3 times more than the global detection rate.
According to a report published by Harvard University, the reason behind this is the strict control system adopted by the government in combating disease outbreaks.
The government of Singapore invited people to be tested in hospitals for free and promised them that the government will pay for treatment, and will financially compensate quarantined people.
They also prohibited any entity from deducting the quarantine period from their annual leave balance. Communication between the government and the public is what sets Singapore apart from the rest of the world’s countries.
If you, or one of those people, get infected, The Ministry of Health will be able to know who came into contact with the patient from infection to detection, and will immediately contact them and invite them to undergo testing.
The government of Singapore said that subscribing to the application is voluntary and the application does not share people’s personal information except for their encrypted phone numbers.
While writing this article, Italy is the eighth most infected country in less than a month. You know why? Because of politicians’ irresponsibility and personal conflicts which they placed above the interest of their countries.
In January, the right-wing of Italy’s Parliament called for testing people coming from China to ensure that they are not carrying the virus. But the government refused.
You know why?
Because this was proposed by a political opponent.
When an esteemed virology professor, Roberto Burioni, tried to underline the importance of containing the virus, The media painted him as a fascist.
Governor of the northeastern region, Veneto, did was make racist comments against the Chinese, saying:
“We saw them eat live mice.”
The Head of the Democratic Party in Milan asked people to go out and stop panicking. After 9 days, he announced that he himself had become infected with Corona.
Political conflicts between politicians kept rising as the number of cases kept increasing every day. With people acting irresponsibly and going out to the beach, restaurants, and stores until disaster struck.
In the U.S, after the FDA granted approval to the testing kit developed by the CDC, it turned out that the testing kit was flawed, denying Americans, wide-scale, testing for the entire month of February.
The FDA did not grant approval for any private companies to develop kits until February 29th.
This has led the USA to become the most infected country With more than 245 thousand cases, thus declaring a state of emergency in the state. This is because authorities did not conduct enough tests in January and February.
Until the end of February, only 459 people had been tested.
The U.S president mocked the pandemic and called it “corona flu”.
The number of cases was doubling almost every two days. On that day, the number of infections was 1,697 cases.
New York governor estimates that 80% of the state could become infected with the coronavirus. Imagine that!
Until this moment, there is a significant shortage in testing capabilities Which led authorities to limit testing to patients inside hospitals only. The question is:
What should governments do right now to control the spread of the virus?
To control the COVID-19 pandemic, governments need to trace people who came into contact with infected persons.
Not only doctors and nurses but also sampling and quarantine experts and data entry personnel to record patients’ data and others as well.
Governments must also provide the necessary equipment for the healthcare sector. Such as masks, gloves, sanitizers, and others. In addition to respirators for patients as soon as possible.
Governments must consolidate medical and administrative sectors under one entity tasked with combating the pandemic. Just like Taiwan.
Finally, governments must reassure and not deceive the public, and they must formulate a clear and transparent media strategy.
How can you tell if the situation in a country has become serious due to the Coronavirus?
Johns Hopkins University developed mathematical modeling to tell us whether or not the situation in a given country has become disastrous.
The strategies adopted by Asian countries to successfully contain the spread of the virus MUST be followed by the rest of the world countries.
- First, impose a travel ban without hesitation.
- Second, conduct as many tests as possible and quickly trace contacts as recommended by WHO. Tests are more important than isolation and social distancing.
- Third, adopt stricter quarantine and social distancing measures.
- Fourth, invest in and continuously develop the healthcare system.
- Fifth, build a robust and clear administrative structure for the healthcare system’s response to crises and disasters.
- Sixth, the government must proactively reach out to the public to earn their trust and drive them to follow instructions.
The British PM said to his people that they will lose their loved ones.
The U.S president said:
“It is not a pandemic at all. We have it totally under control.”
The VP of Taiwan, on the other hand, has a Ph.D. in Epidemiology from Johns Hopkins University. He played a prominent role in the 2003 SARS crisis and managed to successfully control it when he became minister of health.
In Singapore, the PM addressed the people and reassured them that stores’ and supermarkets’ owners had assured him that they can meet people’s needs, managing to reassure and calm the public.
Everyone, individuals and governments, is responsible for overcoming this pandemic that has consumed the world.
Look at how the developed countries were overwhelmed in this pandemic with their people fighting for survival.
WHO Director-General says that it is like a football team.
The offensive tactics include isolation of cases, testing, and patient treatment. The defensive tactics include social distancing and staying home.
This is a beautiful example.
Because we can only win a match by being both on the offensive and defensive.
The offensive is the responsibility of governments.
The defensive is staying home and taking the responsibility of the likes of you and me.
Everything ends and nothing lasts.
The treatment, by God’s will, is coming. But, when does it end And what are the losses it’ll leave us with depends on how serious and committed we are.
God save and protect us all.
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