Author: Jean-Claude Muller, 穆卓Executive Editor at BtoBioInnovation firstname.lastname@example.org
SPECIAL REPORT #20.9
COVID-19: A few early lessons.
Western Europe has now become the most active center of the COVID-19 outbreak with around 75,000 confirmed cases, getting close to the 81,000 cases in China, but with already more deaths than all over Asia, and the pandemic is far of having reached its peak. In most countries of Europe, Italy excepted, confinement has only been implemented a few days ago and was not as strict and as immediate as it was in Asian countries. Italy has now recorded more than 3,000 deaths and except for the region of Codorno, where an “Italian Wuhan” quarantine has been initiated two weeks ago, the virus is still spreading widely. The next widening of the pandemic will come from the United States and nobody can make a sound projection of the worldwide death toll within the next three months. The only clear impact on everybody’s radar screen is the massive slowing down of the economy and the two weeks long market crash with some sectors loosing from 60 to 90% of their January 1st value.
But what about China where it all started in the very last days of 2019?
According to the latest data report by AutoNavi, a map application operated by the Alibaba Group, traffic in major shopping districts in several major cities in China rose 30% over the weekend of March 14-15, compared with the weekend of February 15-16 when the coronavirus spread was at its high and many areas in the country were on lockdown. “Consumer confidence is starting to rebound as the coronavirus comes under control. We are seeing more and more people stepping out, with offline consumption slowly recovering” said Guo Ning, vice-president of AutoNavi. China’s two-months lockdown, with curfews, social distancing and rapid isolation of the most severe cases of the disease is clearly a lesson on how to best tackle the spread of a viral pandemic.
What can we learn from Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore?
They had been exposed to the SARS outbreak in 2003 which infected over 8,000 people and killed 774, including 299 in Hong Kong. “Somewhat perversely, we can look at SARS as the dress rehearsal” said Jeremy Lim, co-director of the Leadership Institute for Global Health Transformation at the National University of Singapore. “On the back of the experience, better systems were put in place” he said. Recoveries in all three countries are starting to outpace the active cases. Hong Kong has become a remarkable fixture for its ability to keep the disease under control and in being desperate to avoid repeating the nightmare of the 2003 epidemic. As of March 19, Hong Kong has 193 declared cases, 95 recoveries, 94 actives cases and 4 deaths, Singapore has 313 cases, no new case and zero deaths. Taiwan, an island located 80 miles from mainland China, has 108 reported cases, 8 new ones and one reported death.
Key to their successes has been the decision to respond aggressively from the outset of the disease. In order to uncover any COVID-19 infection, that may otherwise evaded infection, Singapore health authorities decided to test all influenza like and pneumonia cases and rapidly separated every possible contact from infected subjects with locally developed tests for antibodies. Epidemic preparedness and authoritarian responses based on control of social distancing, implementation of curfews and coercion have proven to be effective to keep the epidemic under control.
Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore cannot be a virus-fighting blueprint for other countries, their geographic sizes relate more to cities rather than nations. Nevertheless the infection rates of these countries are far lower than the predicted catastrophe and they must have done more than one thing right. “The facts speak from themselves”.
March 19, 2020
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