The unprecedented spread of COVID-19 has profoundly impacted the world, affecting every corner of the globe. Its rapid spread over the first six weeks was so alarming that the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the virus to be a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern” (PHEIC) in January 2020. By then, the disease had spread to at least 25 countries, as evidenced by the WHO’s records of 28,276 confirmed cases and 565 fatalities. (Obasi & Anierobi, 2021)
Three years after the onset of the pandemic, the world has seen over 700 million infections with over six million deaths. More than just physical health, the COVID-19 pandemic brought about considerable changes to our lives, changing the way we work, play, and live. The WHO recommended preventive public health measures to control and contain its spread. They include:
- Stay-at-Home: Keep people at home by shifting work and studies online, reducing the movement of people.
- Lockdown: Restrict social, cultural, economic, or religious meetings; no business or commercial travelling or meetings.
- Quarantine: Allow those infected to receive medical care and rest in isolation while keeping those uninfected away from the virus. It includes isolation at home or a facility.
- Social and physical distancing: Maintain at least 6 feet distance in public transport and public areas, with no direct physical contact or close contact between people.
- Personal hygiene: Maintain personal hygiene by using face masks, alcohol-based hand sanitizers, and frequent handwashing with soap. Disinfect frequently touched surfaces and avoid unnecessary touching of the eyes, nose, and mouth.
- Information: Stay informed and follow recommendations provided by healthcare professionals.
As the initial symptoms of COVID-19 are similar to seasonal influenza, which is common around that time of the year, governments worldwide have differing attitudes about COVID-19. Before the virus gains traction, the pre-pandemic phase includes a spark period and its spreading time. The attitudes of individual governments affect decision-making, and the policies meted out during this pre-pandemic phase. (Purnomo et al., 2022)
Even with highly developed healthcare systems, countries like Italy, the United States, Spain, and France struggled to control the infection, possibly due to little social distancing. The Trump administration downplayed the COVID-19 pandemic’s magnitude and severity, and countries like Italy did not think it would cause any problems to their people or economy. However, late and reactionary crisis management caused a considerable increase in cases and fatalities in many of these countries. In their study, Purnomo et al. note that political agenda and unpredictability, a lack of public policy, poor public health, and shortcomings in outbreak detection and response systems impact these underprepared countries. (2022)
On the other hand, well-prepared countries have stable economies, effective management systems, and affordable healthcare prices. The public and policymakers responded rapidly and adopted feasible interventions such as school closures, travel bans, public restrictions, emergency spending on education, alternative methods of providing social services, and other varying measures to prevent the spread of the virus and to address the COVID-19 situation. (Purnomo et al., 2022)
The findings of Purnomo et al.‘s study of the responses of ASEAN countries reveal that Thailand was the most prepared to mitigate the pandemic among ASEAN countries. In contrast, other countries like Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Myanmar, Philippines were classified as more prepared and under-reactive countries. Countries like Laos that adopted preventative protection measures in line with WHO guidelines for early detection and prevention of COVID-19 outbreaks were able to keep infection rates low. Bordering next to China and close to the transmission center, Laos has a high possibility of transmission. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, Laos established a Prevention, Control, and Response Committee for COVID-19, considered the allocation of emergency funds for COVID-19 response, and implemented lockdown and work-from-home (WFH) strategies. (2022)
In China, on top of implementing strict restrictions, employed smart technology to prevent and control the spread of the virus. Together with quarantine measures, big data, and mobile internet. Fine-grained monitoring and tracking are the major defenses supporting the return to “normal” life. Through digital programs such as health codes in intelligent devices, users’ data, including location and travel data, medical and health data, and online consumption data, are tracked and collected, thus enabling accurate and rapid identification of confirmed cases or close contacts. (Li & Long, 2022)
With policymakers downplaying the magnitude of the virus and ignoring experts in its early stage, the United States was hit hard with over 100 million cases and one million deaths to date. Response from states varied, with some, like Texas and Mississippi having relaxed regulations around mask-wearing. On the other hand, Canada has a more centralized and comprehensive response, including one of the longest lockdowns and strict border controls. Although misinformation spread through Twitter like wildfire, many high-profile scientists like Anthony Fauci quickly set things in order. On the ground, healthcare workers put in their best efforts to care for infected patients. At the same time, a unified contact tracing and case investigation approach succeeded in alerting potential cases. The effectiveness and learnings of this innovative approach are used to encourage vaccination and will be used to help people with HIV. (Kern et al., 2022)
The first confirmed cases came from France, and together with Germany and Italy, they are the most impacted countries among the European nations. Europe has experienced 270 million confirmed cases as a continent, with over two million deaths to date.
The European Union (EU) struggled to coordinate its efforts against the pandemic. Each European nation has different capacities and capabilities regarding financial resources and healthcare systems, resulting in different approaches to the pandemic. One instance is that Italy can only offer a fiscal stimulus package that is 4% the size of the one provided by Germany. In addition, the EU holds limited powers over health matters, leaving public health responsibility to individual nations. For this reason, they could not enforce guidelines or actions that would effectively curb the spread. However, on the economic front, fiscal packages and measures were rolled out to help households, businesses, and self-employed. The EU backed national efforts by allowing flexibility assistance in its policies.
Global Impact of COVID-19
We learned how the virus knows no boundaries, making its way worldwide. It does not discriminate against who it infects. Yet, it surfaced many racial and economic inequalities highlighting the system’s structural inefficiencies and discrimination.
As Obasi & Anierobi found in their studies about the plight of homelessness in Nigeria, the one-size-fits-all stay-at-home policy aggravated the situation of homeless people. Instead of keeping them safe, the policy puts them in a more delirious state when they have no home to stay in. They were forced to stay within their tight homeless clusters and did not have provisions for basic needs like food, electricity, money, and medical facilities. As a result, they resorted to looting medical supplies or theft and even physically fought with law enforcers (2021). Similarly, when 40% of the world’s population cannot access clean water, adhering to the universal policy of washing hands will be difficult for them.
As Winston Churchill said, “Never waste a good crisis.” COVID-19 is the largest pandemic since the Spanish Flu, and it is essential that we learn from it. How do we coordinate better in times of a pandemic? How do we reduce fatalities? How do we make better decisions? How do we ensure that policies are inclusive enough to reach segments of the population? How do we survive together for the better?
To learn more about COVID-19, read our compilation of research here.
Purnomo, E. P., Agustiyara, N., Nurmandi, A., Dewi, A., Rosa, E. M., Bayu, A., & Erviana, R. (2022). ASEAN Policy Responses to COVID-19 Pandemic: Adaptation and Experimentation Policy: A Study of ASEAN Countries Policy Volatility for COVID-19 Pandemic. SAGE Open, 12(1), 215824402210821. https://doi.org/10.1177/21582440221082145
Obasi, C. O., & Anierobi, C. (2021). The Homeless-Poor and the COVID-19 Stay-at-Home Policy of Government: Rethinking the Plight of Homelessness in Nigeria. SAGE Open, 11(3), 215824402110450. https://doi.org/10.1177/21582440211045078
Li, W., & Long, Y. (2022). Smart technologies for fighting against pandemics: Observations from China during COVID-19. Transactions in Urban Data, Science, and Technology, 1(3–4), 105–120. https://doi.org/10.1177/27541231221127152
Kern, D., Tabidze, I., Modali, L., Stonehouse, P., & Karamustafa, A. (2022). Unified Response to COVID-19 Case Investigation and Contact Tracing, Chicago, December 2020–April 2021. Public Health Reports, 137(2_suppl), 40S-45S. https://doi.org/10.1177/00333549221131372