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Asia curtailed spread of COVID-19 better than U.S., Europe, says new research

By Adelowo Adebumiti
08 November 2021   |   3:00 am
A new research has shown that South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong controlled the spread of COVID-19 well despite being so close to the initial outbreak in China.

Health workers take swab samples from people to be tested for Covid-19 coronavirus at a nucleic acid sample collection station at a park in Beijing on August 5, 2021. (Photo by Noel Celis / AFP)

A new research has shown that South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong controlled the spread of COVID-19 well despite being so close to the initial outbreak in China.

The study from Nazarbayev University Graduate School of Public Policy (NU GSPP), Kazakhstan, attributed this to the agility of their governments compared to the West.

Assistant Professor, NU GSPP, Hyesong Ha and colleagues compared how these Asian regions responded to COVID-19 with how United States of America and Europe responded.

They found out that the Asian regions responded quickly and aggressively to control the first wave: At the onset of the outbreak, they all quickly banned flights and Hong Kong, Taiwan, and South Korea started widespread use of masks and physical distancing early on.

The researchers outlined several shared factors deployed by South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, and Hong Kong, all associated with a ‘capable and agile’ government.

Again they all have previous experience in dealing with epidemics such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS),Influenza A Virus Subtype (H1N1), and Ebola; key in preparing for future outbreaks whcih assisted their response to COVID-19.

According to the researchers, these countries were able to make decisions quickly due to their capacity to collect, process and interpret reliable information.

“South Korea used privacy preserving digital information from smartphone, credit card, transportation card or CCTV to alert the population of infected cases and GPS tracking for home quarantine, while Hong Kong implemented digital bracelets to enforce home quarantine measures.

“Agility also depends on organisational structure of public agencies and autonomy. The governments of all four Asian regions are well known for their professional capacity, innovation and their public agencies or military are most suitably utilised in a crisis. In Singapore, they were deployed to pack masks, test foreign workers, organise logistics for food and rehouse the tens of thousands of essential workers. This urgent and massive effort requires organisational coherence, logistics, training, and discipline, for which their military are designed.

“Good leadership is important, but the ability of leaders depends on size of the country, its political system, the political capital of the government, and the capacity of its civil service. Taiwan and South Korea both have presidential-parliamentary systems, which have more powers in times of crisis allowing smoother enforcement of restrictions.

“Agility also depends on how much power public agencies have, especially powers on emergency procurement of medical supplies and ordering businesses to increase production of medical supplies. Of the four Asian regions, none faced shortages of testing kits, masks, or personal protective equipment, unlike the U.S. and Europe,” the researchers said.

“The public can influence agility of government,” they stated. According to him, in Taiwan and China, the media quickly reported the outbreak as a crisis, prompting the government to act. “In Hong Kong, the government was pressured over their lack of financial support to workers and households and NGOs mobilised to help the more vulnerable. In South Korea, civil society including various NGOs and NPOs voluntarily supported the poor and vulnerable, while cooperating with the central and local governments.”

Professor Ha said, “U.S. and most of Western Europe were unprepared and acted too little, too late while debating on values such as personal privacy versus public safety.

In the US, the first case was reported on January 20th 2020. Initially, Trump was in a state of denial, so COVID-19 was only declared a major national disaster two months later.

“European countries also wasted time quarrelling over stockpiling and shipment of supplies, border closures, and financial aid to poorer countries. In the UK, experts criticised the government for considering herd immunity, lax enforcement of mask-wearing and physical distancing, and bars and public events remaining open.

“In conclusion, COVID-19 is still a rapidly evolving situation, but the presence of a capable and agile public government is what will decide the outcome for a region.”

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