COVID-19 OIST Insight 6
OIST is collaborating with Ryukyu Shimpo for a series of column articles related to COVID-19 on weekly basis. The 6th story was written by Prof. Mahesh Bandi.
Article is in Japanese, but please see below the original draft in English.
Since the first coronavirus cases were reported six months ago, nations all over the world have dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic via a wide range of measures. Let us examine the lessons we have learned along the way.
Response time: Countries that responded quickly by closing their borders or setting up rigorous testing and quarantine systems for international travelers were able to control the virus spread in their communities more effectively. Austria went into early and strict lockdown and was less affected than its immediate neighbor, Italy. In turn, Austria was also the first European country to re-open. On the other hand, although the United States banned travelers from China starting February 2nd, most American infections in fact originated from Europe. The US travel ban on Europe was only imposed starting March 13 and the time lost had devastating consequences.
Social distancing: Every country adopted social distancing in some form. India enforced this measure in its most severe form of total lockdown. With 1.3 billion people, effective social distancing is impossible for this nation’s public spaces. In contrast, Sweden maintained normal functions while asking people to keep two meters apart. Sweden has a similar level of high-quality healthcare as its neighbors like Denmark; Denmark took stricter emergency measures and suffered far fewer deaths than Sweden.
Access to quality healthcare: Developed nations generally possess high-quality healthcare, but that alone is insufficient. Germany has universal health coverage as well as an adequate number of ICU beds. Due to these criterion, German hospitals along the border with France were able to treat patients from France in addition to their own populace. The US too has a high-quality healthcare system but without universal health coverage. African American and Hispanic communities with lower than average incomes bore a disproportionately high percentage of the country’s COVID-19 casualties.
Contact Tracing: New technologies such as smartphones allowed for efficient tracking of people who came in contact with an infected person, helping to curb infection rates in countries like Singapore and Israel while also raising concerns about violating individual privacy. A less compulsory version was offered by Smartphone Apps through which people could self-report symptoms. With the help of AI tools, the UK and other countries were able to prepare for clusters before infections broke out with 80% accuracy.
Testing: Countries that tested extensively could make better informed decisions. Germany and South Korea undertook aggressive and broad PCR testing of their populations, allowing them to move decisively with clarity regarding the danger. Testing lagged in the US and UK, which had an impact on the quality of their responses; Both nations increased testing once they realized its importance.
Japan trod the middle path in its adoption of the above measures. It seems to have come out of this pandemic with less serious consequences than most nations. When cases started increasing exponentially in late March, we wondered whether a state of emergency would be declared in time or have any impact since lockdown cannot be enforced. Fortunately, several of Japan’s cultural traits worked in our favor, such as the use of face masks and respectful distance in public spaces. However, we also learned some hard lessons: Our current testing capability is woefully lacking. We must improve our ICU bed capacity across most prefectures. Rather than a separate infectious diseases hospital, having an infectious diseases department in all major hospitals would be more advisable. We have been spared this time, but we should remain alert and be better prepared, because there will most assuredly be a next time.