Can COVID ‘success stories’ guide us in dealing with the second wave?

The second wave of the pandemic is upon us and, with winter fast approaching, it is worth identifying some of the most efficient government strategies worldwide, to understand how countries successfully mobilised in the face of this crisis. Whilst each country’s response was different depending on resources, economy and societal consensus, several measures proved to be efficient in the countries that adopted them:

  • Early lockdown / stringent measures
  • Contact tracing
  • Testing
  • Government transparency
  • Following scientific advice
  • Efficient health care system

‘Success Stories’

New Zealand

New Zealand has been commended internationally for its calculated and rapid response in the face of the first wave of the pandemic. On the 14th of March, with 6 confirmed cases nationwide, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that anybody returning to New Zealand from the 16th of March on had to self-isolate for two weeks. Only four days later, New Zealand imposed a ban, allowing residents to return home,  but restricting entry to all non-residents. Already on the 25th of March, with no deaths and only 102 cases registered, a nationwide lockdown was imposed.1 The early response to the pandemic meant that the total number of deaths remained at a low 25 and that the lockdown could be lifted in June. Sceptics pointed out that New Zealand is an island and that its population is only short of 5 million, which could have been contributing factors to the low rate of mortality and the slow rate of infections. Whilst these factors most certainly played a role, New Zealand’s swift mobilisation in the face of the pandemic proved that taking stringent measures early on can save a lot of lives in the long run. The government’s success in dealing with the pandemic led to a rise in Jacinda Ardern’s popularity and enabled her to get re-elected this autumn. However, scientists warn against complacency and stress the importance of putting political interests aside, now that the election has passed, to concentrate on devising new strategies for dealing with the second wave.

Text Box: Figure 1  New Zealand`s Prime Minister
Figure 1. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern

Germany

Germany was one of the few countries in Europe that managed to keep the pandemic relatively under control. No lockdown was imposed, although public gatherings were limited to two, people needed to take distancing measures and certain businesses were closed. On the 18th of March, the EU closed its borders and on the 10th of April, people arriving in Germany had to self-isolate for 14 days. Moreover, testing was available early on and anonymous contact tracing was implemented, which enabled the authorities to limit the spread of the virus. Germany also has one of the biggest economies in Europe and an efficient healthcare system with a high capacity, which meant that although people got infected, they could get treated. With a population of 83 million people, the total number of deaths in Germany is 10,090, which is low in comparison with other countries such as the UK, where the total number of deaths is more than four times as much (44, 571), for a population of 66 million people. Another important factor that was present in both Germany and New Zealand was the transparency of the government: following scientific advice and not withholding information from the public, to avoid creating false expectations. This meant that people were much more willing to abide by the laws imposed by local authorities and comply with new regulations, helping contain the spread of the virus. However, with the number of infected people on the rise, Germany has now reintroduced stricter measures to deal with the second wave of the pandemic.

Lessons learnt?

There is no recipe for success when it comes to combating COVID-19. Countries differ in their ability to convince people to use tracing apps, to invest in healthcare systems that can meet the needs of the population during a pandemic, as well as in their ability to make economic sacrifices such as imposing national lockdowns and closing businesses. However, with the start of the second wave of the pandemic and with many people`s patience and resilience waning, governments must try to implement measures that proved to be successful in other countries in order to create an efficient strategy and hopefully eradicate the virus forever.

All figures accurate at time of publication.

Written by Diana Jalea

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