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Combating Coronavirus with Asia-Pacific Strategies

The year 2020 brought a harmful virus into the world. Originating from China and later spread worldwide, the novel coronavirus has not only affected people but also devastated the world’s most advanced economies. Leading countries fell prey to this crisis and couldn’t find a way to restore to normal. Crisis management and the lockdown was the only key left for the states to control this situation.

Asia Pacific (APAC), being a large area includes most of the world’s populous countries like China, India, Indonesia, etc. Gaining significant recognition in the 1980s, the area is crucial for finance, trade, and politics. It includes 21 economies whose combined GDP is 56% of the world economic output. During the Covid-19 outbreak, the region suffered a massive slump in the economy, and many countries went under strict lockdown. Unlike other parts of the world, APAC countries strategically pulled themselves from the grip of the deadly virus and resumed their lives back to normal.

The way this outbreak happened was something no country in the world was prepared for. Sufficient time was spent just to study about the contamination of the virus. China, where the first case of the infection was reported, did not make it public, as most people and countries suffered. In that entire chaotic situation, Singapore emerged successfully in stopping the contamination of viruses and controlling the cases. Singapore’s pre-emptive attempts ended the spreading of the virus in its territory because it has been preparing for this kind of outbreak since SARS (2002-2003). In 2002, when first infected humans were reported in Guandong province of China, little did the world knew that this deadly virus would affect 26 countries worldwide. Singapore was one of the most affected countries resulting in 206 reported cases and 32 deaths. Since then, Singapore has been preparing itself for such a crisis in the future. Even being the earliest countries to report Covid-19 cases, Singapore controlled the exponential rise of cases in its territory.

Not just Singapore, most of the countries in APAC have ended up responding to the crisis well. China, where the first cases were reported, took strict measures to halt the virus’s spreading. Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province and the house of almost 11 million people, was completely under lockdown since 23rd January 2020, putting up restrictions on all the activities. All land, water, and air operations were suspended at once. People were put under strict lockdown in their homes and were permitted to step out only in case of special reasons. There was panic felt amongst the public as they were given only eight hours to react and buy essential items. Soon after Wuhan, the entire Hubei province was locked with immediate effect. Chinese government faced lots of criticism regarding the strict lockdown measures. It was alleged to violate human rights, but later on, when the virus spread in other countries, they were also found using the same lockdown strategy as China. Subsequent studies have found that the lockdown resulted as a life-saving technique and saved necks of other cities by preventing the spread of the virus by almost three days. Such measures helped China in eradicating the virus and opening the lockdown. Even though there was a sudden rise in the reported cases, China had an outstanding recovery rate. A fresh case was reported after 35 days of opening the lockdown. China successfully managed to control the spread of the virus despite being densely populated.

New Zealand emerged as one of the successful countries that recovered entirely from the deadly virus. The ‘elimination policy’ helped the county to get rid of coronavirus rapidly. It was on 28th February when New Zealand confirmed its first positive case in Auckland. The affected person had come back from Iran a few days back. It was then New Zealand put temporary restrictions on visitors from Iran. Without any further delay, people arriving from outside were quarantined when there were just six confirmed cases and zero death in the country. Before the situation worsened, Prime Minister Jessica Arden laid down the plan of lockdown consisting of four stages. Later, New Zealand closed all its borders, restricting all inbound and outbound travelers on 19th March. A full lockdown strategy was implemented by 23rd March, making the country step into alert level 3. It included shutting down schools, colleges, in essential workplaces, the ban on social gatherings, and numerous travel restrictions. After two days, New Zealand announced the 4th stage of lockdown, popularly known as ‘eliminating strategy.’ In this, people were allowed to come in contact with only those they were living with. Full lockdown helped the country to increase its testing capacity, which turned out to be a more beneficial factor in controlling the spread of the virus. As per reports, New Zealand was testing nearly 8000 cases every day, which is one of the highest testing rates per capita in the world. On 27th April, New Zealand declared that it had successfully eliminated coronavirus. The restrictions were eased, and people were allowed to expand their social interaction adhering to social distancing measures. New Zealand’s elimination policy emerged as a model for the rest of the world. Small geographic size and limited population also served as a contributing factor in the elimination of the virus.

Just like New Zealand, Australia has been successful too in flattening the coronavirus curve. When the rest of the world was busy strategizing, Australia, on 1st February, closed its borders for those who had recently visited China. Similar restrictions were put on people coming from Iran, South Korea, and Italy. On 19th March, Australia shut all its borders for all non-citizens and non-residents. Unfortunately, it allowed passengers to disembark from Ruby Princess cruise ship in Sydney, which gave a tremendous rise in the cases. Almost 600 cases and 15 deaths were found to be linked to the cruise ship. Without further delay, just after two days, the Australian government ordered the closure of bars, gyms, cinemas, and clubs, while only take-away was permitted for restaurants. Other states such as West Australia and South Australia completely sealed their borders. They allowed people to enter only by quarantining them for 14 days. By the end of March, Australia intensified its lockdown by limiting the gathering of people from 10 to 2 and imposing stricter social distancing rules. Extensive testing was conducted not only on people showing Covid-19 symptoms but also on asymptomatic people. The test was conducted on people with mildest of symptoms of Covid-19. As a result, Australia, with a population of 25.5million, has reported 7,183 cases along with 103 deaths. Widespread testing helped Australia to slow down the spreading of the virus and flattened the curve successfully.

Talking about one of the most affected countries, India has stood firm in all the worst times. When Prime Minister Modi announced the national lockdown in India on 24th March, it was received with skepticism by both national and internationally. However, when India reported only a few cases as compared to other countries in the West, India’s efforts to contain Covid-19 were highly appreciated. The rate of recovery in India is 47%, and more than 11,000 have been recovered as of 30th May. A country that comprises 17.7% of the world’s population has managed to combat the coronavirus effectively. With just 8.5 hospital beds per 10,000 citizens and eight physicians per 10,000, the country’s healthcare sector was not equipped for such a crisis. India innovatively converted railway coaches into wards, which at the same time were movable. Governments kept people well informed about the growing cases in India and the measures they have to take. India imposed its lockdown when there were just 536 cases with ten deaths reported. The lockdown was further extended in four stages with different guidelines. Both domestic and international travel was banned, and only essential services were allowed to operate. Interstate and intrastate movements were restricted, and some states sealed their borders to avoid the spread of the virus. When other countries were flooded with corona positive patients, India recorded linear growth in positive cases. According to the John Hopkins database, it took five days for India to double from 750 to 1500 cases. In contrast, countries like Iran, Turkey, and Spain took just one day to reach this range. This was the longest any country took in doubling the range of positive cases. With a population of 1.3 billion, India recorded one of the lowest fatality rates in the world. During the lockdown, the Indian government did not just manage the spread of coronavirus cases. It also took care of the psychological well being of people living under lockdown. The government initiated several activities and urged people to participate from home. This gave people a sense of unity and strength to fight back during tough times. While the lockdown brought hardships to certain sections of the Indian population, the government announced a fund transfer scheme to ensure people get essential during the lockdown. Later on, the government announced a huge stimulus package to revive most sectors in the Indian economy. Experts say the stimulus package is the most significant reforms in India since the 1991 liberalization policy.

Apart from the countries mentioned earlier, Vietnam reported zero deaths with just 270 cases despite sharing a 1400 km border with China. With the population less than one-sixth of the US, South Korea managed to eliminate Covid-19 by testing 20,000 people a day and instituted drive through testing centers. Despite the geographical propinquity with China, Taiwan started taking measures to avoid the spread of the virus way before China imposed lockdown in Wuhan. Hong Kong managed to survive three waves of transmission- from China, its residents returning from the UK and the US, and by passengers of Diamond Cruise ship. Yet it kept the rate of transmission at 0.7, a very low figure indeed.

In this alarming situation, Asia Pacific has reacted more responsibly compared to the other parts of the world. When other countries were ambivalent and focussed on the stability of the economy, different strategies helped the Asia Pacific to emerge as a great example in combating the virus. APAC understood the importance of strict lockdown and rigorous testing. Technology also played a crucial role in containment policies by keeping a close eye on people. Unlike Western countries, APAC did not mind data privacy issues that come along with such technologies. For APAC, survival and safety remained the foremost priorities during the pandemic even if it came at the cost of economic output.

-Vatsala Mishra (One of the winners of Covid-19 Article Writing Competition in the 25-34 years age group)

Picture Credits: asiapacific.ca

References:

Swee, Eik. Managing the Coronavirus: What the World Can Learn From Asia-Pacific Responses. The Diplomat, 2020.https://thediplomat.com/2020/05/managing-the-coronavirus-what-the-world-can-learn-from-asia-pacific-responses/
Wuhan’s early morning fugitive “closure order” set off a greater panic. Beijing: ntdtv, 2020.https://www.ntdtv.com/gb/2020/01/23/a102758809.html
Xie, Echo. Build-up to coronavirus lockdown: inside China’s decision to close Wuhan. South China Morning Post, 2020.https://sg.news.yahoo.com/build-coronavirus-lockdown-inside-china-145139273.html
New Zealand confirms first case of coronavirus: health ministry. Reuters,2020.https://health.economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/diagnostics/new-zealand-confirms-first-case-of-coronavirus-health-ministry/74377332
Prateek, Priya. Explainer: How New Zealand’s ‘elimination Policy’ Got COVID Cases Down To Zero In 6 Weeks, Republic World,2020.https://www.republicworld.com/world-news/rest-of-the-world-news/how-new-zealands-elimination-policy-got-covid-cases-down-to-zero.html
Safest Place in the World’: How Australia Flattened its Coronavirus Curve With Just 6,762 Cases, CNN, 2020.https://www.news18.com/news/world/safest-place-in-the-world-how-australia-flattened-its-coronavirus-curve-with-just-6762-cases-2602031.html
Lack of medical investment, healthcare infra big challenges for India’s COVID-19 fight: Fitch, Economic Times, 2020.https://health.economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/industry/lack-of-medical-investment-healthcare-infra-big-challenges-for-indias-covid-19-fight-fitch/75737892
Mehrotra, Karishma, Fact Check: How coronavirus cases doubled in India, elsewhere, Indian Express, 2020.https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/coronavirus-covid-19-india-cases-maharashtra-kerala-6367388/



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