As Covid-19 spread around the world, countries adopted different lockdown measures. South Africa, for example, went into one of the strictest lockdowns globally. Medical experts ran to and fro, trying to convince everyone that their Covid-19 model was best. Still, no one knew who made the best decision, until Covid-19 infection rates and deaths started to tell a story. Curiously, first world countries like the US and UK have suffered plenty of infections and deaths. Yet, countries like Vietnam have managed to keep the virus at bay. Is it something to do with the national mentality? Do some nations just obey their governments more than others? Back in SA – with our strict lockdown – our numbers weren’t as bad as initially expected. Despite the higher rates of people living with co-morbidities – and various other factors – Covid-19 deaths (and infections) are far lower than that of many first-world countries. However, the lockdown also affected the economy, with millions of job losses. Look to see how SA fared in this Bloomberg study, which looked at Covid-19 resilience in terms of how the virus was handled and how restrictions disrupted business and society. – Jarryd Neves
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The best and worst places to be in the Coronavirus era
By Rachel Chang, Jinshan Hong and Kevin Varley
(Bloomberg) – As Covid-19 has spread around the world, it’s challenged preconceptions about which places would best tackle the worst public health crisis in a generation.
Advanced economies like the US and UK, ranked by various pre-2020 measures as being the most prepared for a pandemic, have been repeatedly overwhelmed by infections and face a return to costly lockdowns. Meanwhile, other countries—even developing nations—have defied expectations, some all but eliminating the pathogen within their borders.
Bloomberg crunched the numbers to determine the best places to be in the coronavirus era: where has the virus been handled most effectively with the least amount of disruption to business and society?
The Covid Resilience Ranking scores economies of more than $200bn on 10 key metrics: from growth in virus cases to the overall mortality rate, testing capabilities and the vaccine supply agreements places have forged. The capacity of the local healthcare system, the impact of virus-related restrictions like lockdowns on the economy, and citizens’ freedom of movement are also taken into account.
Read more on the methodology behind Bloomberg’s Ranking here.
The result is an overall score that’s a snapshot of how the pandemic is playing out in these 53 places right now. By ranking their access to a coronavirus vaccine, we also provide a window into how these economies’ fortunes may shift in the future. It’s not a final verdict, nor could it ever be with imperfections in virus data and the fast pace of this crisis, which has seen subsequent waves confound places that handled things well the first time around. Circumstance and pure luck also play a role, but are hard to quantify.
The Ranking will change as countries switch up their strategies, the weather shifts and the race intensifies for a viable inoculation. Still, the gap that has opened up between those economies at the top and those at the bottom is likely to endure, with potentially lasting consequences in the post-Covid world.
For now, these are the key takeaways:
New Zealand tops the Ranking as of Nov. 23 thanks to decisive, swift action. The small island nation locked down on March 26 before a single Covid-related death had occurred, shutting its borders despite the economy’s heavy reliance on tourism. Early on, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s government said it would target ‘elimination‘ of the virus, pouring resources into testing, contact tracing and a centralised quarantine strategy to snuff out local transmission. Having largely achieved it, New Zealanders are basically living in a world without Covid. The nation has seen just a handful of infections in the community in recent months, and live music and large-scale social events are back on. Though its tourism industries are suffering, New Zealand is also well-positioned for a vaccine with two supply deals in place, including one for the shot developed by Pfizer Inc. and Germany’s BioNTech SE.
In second place is Japan, which charted a different path. It lacks legal means to enforce a lockdown, but other strengths emerged quickly. Due to tuberculosis outbreaks in the past, the country has maintained a public health center system staffed with contact tracers who were quickly redeployed on Covid-19. High levels of social trust and compliance meant citizens pro-actively wore masks and avoided crowded places. Although it’s now seeing a record uptick in infections as winter looms, the nation of more than 120 million people has just 331 serious cases of Covid-19 currently; France, with a population half the size, has nearly 5,000 virus patients in intensive care. Japan’s ability to avoid fatalities despite having the oldest population in the world propelled it higher, as did its foresight in sewing up four vaccine deals—including both frontrunner candidates that use the revolutionary mRNA technology.
Third-place Taiwan’s success is all the more remarkable considering its linkages to mainland China, where the virus first emerged last December. Whisper networks conveying worrying news from Wuhan allowed Taiwan to act early in restricting entry at its borders. The island then pioneered a tech-focused approach to rallying its 23 million people to protect themselves: launching apps that detail where masks are in stock or list locations where infected people visited. It’s gone more than 200 days without a locally transmitted virus case and much like New Zealand, life has largely reverted to normal, though borders remain shut. Taiwan has so far, however, failed to ink any bilateral deals for the most progressed vaccines.
Many in the top 10 pioneered and modeled what have emerged as the most effective strategies for fighting Covid-19. Border control has been a key element, starting with China’s original cordon sanitaire around Hubei province, which largely shielded the rest of the country from infection. The economy where this crisis began is the biggest of the top performers, with mass testing deployed at the first sign of new cases and a mandatory 14-day quarantine for travelers. China’s propensity to impose aggressive lockdowns on regions where medical or tracing resources are scarce is one downside.
The three Nordic nations in the top 10 reflect how border control has been used effectively in Europe. Finland and Norway have blocked entry to most outsiders since mid-March, though they’re part of Europe’s passport-free Schengen area. The top-ranked European nations managed to avoid the resurgence now engulfing countries like France, the UK and Italy caused in part by summer vacation travel.
Effective testing and tracing is a hallmark of almost all the top 10, embodied in South Korea’s approach. The country approved home-grown diagnostic kits within weeks of the virus’s emergence, pioneered drive-through testing stations and has an army of lightning-fast contact tracers who comb through credit card records and surveillance camera footage to track down clusters. Like Japan, Pakistan and other parts of Asia, Korea has drawn on recent epidemic experience after suffering an outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS, in 2015.
The magic formula?
The under-performance of some of the world’s most prominent democracies including the US, UK and India contrasted with the success of authoritarian countries like China and Vietnam has raised questions over whether democratic societies are cut out for tackling pandemics.
Bloomberg’s Covid Resilience Ranking tells a different story: eight of the top 10 are democracies. Success in containing Covid-19 with the least disruption appears to rely less on being able to order people into submission, but on governments engendering a high degree of trust and societal compliance.
When citizens have faith in the authorities and their guidance, lockdowns may not be needed at all, as Japan, Korea—and to an extent, Sweden—show. New Zealand emphasised communication from the start, with a four-level alert system that gave people a clear picture of how and why the government would act as the outbreak evolved.
Investment in public health infrastructure also matters. Undervalued in many places before 2020, systems for contact tracing, effective testing and health education bolstered the top performers, helping socialise hand-washing and the wearing of face masks. This has been key to avoiding economically crippling lockdowns, said Anthony Fauci, the US’s top infectious diseases official.