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Coronavirus: The South Asia roundup and what the West could learn

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New Delhi, Mar 18: Amidst the major outbreak of coronavirus, several nations are taking steps to curb the virus. Lockdowns, social distancing are some of the major measures that have been suggested.

Coronavirus: The South Asia roundup and what the West could learn

Crisis management has been a key in the case of several South Asian nations. At the start of the outbreak all eyes were on Taiwan an island of 23 million people which is just 81 kilometres away from China, with frequent flights back and forth.

What did Taiwan do:

As of March 10, Taiwan and 45 cases of coronavirus and one death. That is in fact fewer than its neighbours like Japan and South Korea. Taiwan has one of the best containment records so far across the world.

So what is Taiwan doing right? Going by the reports the preparations began in 2004 after the last SARS epidemic. A command centre was set up and it operated 24/7. Testing was crucial and when China had reported only a few number of cases Taiwan went to every plane that came from Wuhan and checked people for symptoms.

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The testing in fact began on December 31 as soon as there were suspicious cases of a new type of virus. These were early days and Taiwan took the approach that when one does not know how serious it is, it is always better to be cautious. Keeping calm also went a long way. In fact there were regular updates from the government and a presser was held everyday.

The best response:

The best response so far has been from Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore. These three nations were hit by the virus months before the West, but have reported only a handful of cases. Early intervention has been the key coupled with a leadership that was willing to act fast and enforce quarantines and social distancing.

In Singapore steps have been taken to release the details quickly online. Details of the patients, where they work or play were released quickly so that others could read up and protect themselves. These countries were also quick in securing their borders to protect against a new wave of imported infections.

In Singapore at the time of the outbreak many were mild cases. However Singapore did not ignore these and went ahead to stem the spread to avoid local transmission. In fact until the outbreaks in Italy, Korea and Iran, Singapore was the worst outside China.

However the government was transparent and this aided in effective tracing and isolating.

As of March 17, Singapore confirmed 23 more cases, while adding that 5 had been discharged. Most of them in the hospital are improving, Singapore has stated.

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Singapore had in fact banned all travellers from mainland China in January itself.

Singapore also developed the capability to test more than 2,000 patients a day. In Washington, public labs are processing only 400 a day.

Hong Kong:

SARS had killed nearly 300 people in Hong Kong. While officials pondered over whether to close the borders with China, the people were aware of the measures that they had to take. Malls and offices set up thermal scanners and people used hand sanitisers. Every citizen did their bit, which included wearing masks, washing hands and also taking precautions such as avoiding crowded places.

The government was in fact following in the foot steps of the people in the later part of it. Work from home orders were given, borders were tightened and schools were shut. Hong Kong has reported around 157 cases also announced a mandatory 14 day quarantine for all travellers from abroad.

South Korea:

The death rate as of March 6 in South Korea stands at 0.6 per cent. The country has tested nearly 140,000 persons for coronavirus. The nation is capable of testing as many as 10,000 cases a day. This quick response has allowed South Korea to detect more than 6,000 coronavirus patients. 35 have died and this means that the number of deaths compared to the number of infections stands at 0.6 per cent.

What South Korea has shown is that widespread testing means lower death rate because a majority of the cases are considered mild. Further the country's testing programme is available to all individuals and is free to those with symptoms.

Lessons to be learnt:

Transparency, early quarantine and quick measures are some of the lessons that one can learn from the Asian countries. A China daily said that Singapore, Japan and South Korea all based their responses on the experiences and lessons drawn from China's successful battle with the virus.

However the battle in the Europe and Asia may not be similar. The question is how replicable is this model. In countries such as Singapore, the people are more willing to accept government orders. This was a country which had one endorsed a ban on chewing gum. In Western countries, people tend to speak out more when asked for health or immigration records. Moreover it must be noted that in the US, the pandemic response unit had been disbanded in 2018.

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The Asian countries on the other hand would continue to fight because it is proven that both isolation and quarantine work.

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