The CoviD-19 saga: Effects of a Good Pandemic Response (pt. 2)

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A good CoviD-19 response is yet to have a definite objective measure, yet global media including Health authorities such as the WHO has lauded various countries for their actions amidst the pandemic.

President Tsai Ing-wen in Taiwan was among the first and the fastest to respond to the pandemic.

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A Stanford Health policy report quotes Doctor Jason Wang, pediatrician and director of the Center for Policy, Outcomes, and Prevention at Stanford as saying: “The Taiwan government established the National Health Command Center (NHCC) after SARS and it’s become part of a disaster management center that focuses on large-outbreak responses and acts as the operational command point for direct communications.”

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Lauding their preparations

In January, when the first sign of a new illness dawned, the Taiwan President introduced 124 measures to block the spread without having to resort to the lockdowns that have become common elsewhere.

Tsai managed what has been described by global media as among the world’s best responses, keeping the epidemic under control in Taiwan and as of this writing (June 2020) has so far only recorded 7 deaths.

President Tsai Ing-wen inspects the Central Epidemic Command Center on April 2, 2020. | "04.02 總統視察「中央流行疫情指揮中心」" by 總統府 is licensed under CC BY 2.0
President Tsai Ing-wen inspects the Central Epidemic Command Center on April 2, 2020. | “04.02 總統視察「中央流行疫情指揮中心」” by 總統府 is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Under the leadership of Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir, Iceland is offering free coronavirus testing to all its citizens, by tapping its private sector (biotech company deCODE Genetics) and will become a key case study in the determining spread and fatality rates of CoviD-19. Nordic Life Science News quotes Iceland’s chief epidemiologist, Thorolfur Guðnason, stating, “This effort is intended to gather insight into the actual prevalence of the virus in the community, as most countries are most exclusively testing symptomatic individuals at this time,”. While most countries limit testing to people with active symptoms, Iceland is investing on testing its whole population.

Iceland Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir. | "Katrín Jakobsdóttir" by NordForsk/Kim Wendt is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Iceland Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir. | “Katrín Jakobsdóttir” by NordForsk/Kim Wendt is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Icelandic officials tapped private sectors for help by making an app available for people to download (Rakning C-19) to help chart the virus’ spread.

According to MIT Technology Review’s CoViD Tracing Tracker, it has the largest penetration rate of all contact trackers in the world, having been downloaded by 38% of Iceland’s population of 364,000. Users don’t have to share their data with authorities but public trust gained through mitigating the disease led people to share information, as it helps contact-tracing teams work out who may have been put at risk. In comparison, the UK’s government-supported app is only now in the works and is weeks away from launching.

Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, made early decisions and told her countrymen that this was a serious concern that would infect more than 70% of the population.

Following the Russian-German talks, Vladimir Putin and Federal Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel made statements for the press and answered journalists’ questions. | "Angela Merkel" by Russian Presidential Executive Office is licensed under CC BY 4.0
Following the Russian-German talks, Vladimir Putin and Federal Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel made statements for the press and answered journalists’ questions. | “Angela Merkel” by Russian Presidential Executive Office is licensed under CC BY 4.0

She did not hold her words lightly, and avoided denial or underplaying the disease. Now, the country’s coronavirus numbers are far below its European neighbors, and there are signs it may be able to start loosening restrictions relatively soon.

According to the Lancet, Germany ranks 18th in the world in terms of access to quality healthcare sitting above the UK at 23rd and the US at 29th. But these indices only tell us so much. Italy, for example, ranks 9th and the country also carried out rigorous testing, yet it has recorded the second-highest number of deaths per capita in the world after Spain.

The secret is because Germans invested not just in quality but in quantity. Germany’s bed capacity is well over its need to the point that it is treating even the mildest cases. Most of the world’s healthcare systems are overloaded, especially in Italy.

German disease and epidemic control is advised by the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) according to their national pandemic plan. As seen in the RKI Dashboard for CoviD-19, the country’s low fatality rate, compared to fatality rates in Italy and Spain, has generated a discussion and explanations that cite the country’s higher number of tests performed, higher number of available intensive care beds with respiratory support and higher proportion of positive cases among younger people.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand was early to declare a lockdown and effectively communicated the policies about the various alert levels she was putting the country under. At just 6 cases, she already imposed self-isolation to everyone and banned foreigners from entering soon after. As of June 2020 the country has suffered only 22 deaths. An article written by Sophie Cousins published by the Lancet states that an aggressive approach has enabled New Zealand to end community transmission of SARS-CoV-2.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at the 2018 Arts Foundation Icon Awards. | "Jacinda Ardern" by Government House, New Zealand is licensed under CC BY 4.0
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at the 2018 Arts Foundation Icon Awards. | “Jacinda Ardern” by Government House, New Zealand is licensed under CC BY 4.0

New Zealand recorded its first day of no new cases of more than a month after its strict lockdown.

Most of these countries, if not already doing so, are planning on easing lockdowns.

A common trend with countries overcoming CoviD-19 – their currency values are increasing.

Vietnam, which is globally lauded as one of the countries with the best coronavirus response, will likely see a surge in their economy through investments and would climb the ranks among greater countries in the post-pandemic era. A recent Vietnam Briefing report by Pritesh Samuel stated that Vietnam is among the top prospects for countries wanting to relocate their Chinese operations. It is good to note that Vietnam has a GDP lower than that of the Philippines.

Meanwhile a CNBC report quoted Kathy Lien, managing director of foreign exchange strategy at BK Asset Management stating “New Zealand and Australia have been very effective in controlling CoviD-19 and are ready to restart their economies.”

Together with the Korean Won, the Australian Dollar and New Zealand Dollar are among the currencies that have increased their values compared to when the pandemic was just starting.

While they’re currently in the phases of easing lockdowns, In contrast, many of their neighbors in the region are still struggling to control the pandemic.

At the start of 2020, the Australian Dollar was as high as $0.70 against the U.S. dollar — but plunged to a low of $0.5798 in mid-March as virus concerns took hold.

Since then, it has surged 11.4% and last changed hands at $0.6460.

At around mid-March, New Zealand’s currency was at a low of $0.5666. It has since gained about 6.4% to above the $0.60 level. The Korean Won strengthened almost 5% by around mid-April as cases lessened. South Korea is particularly famous for initially being Asia’s worst-hit country outside China.

The country is now hailed as a role model for successfully containing the outbreak, after it instituted widespread testing and intensive contact tracing.

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