More than half of the world’s population is confined due to the new coronavirus pandemic. But life remains relatively normal in Taiwan, South Korea or Hong Kong, three of the first affected territories, where drastic measures to contain the crisis were soon applied.
Taiwan could have faced the worst, when the epidemic emerged in neighboring China, its first trading partner.
But three months later, the island’s balance is 376 confirmed contagion cases and five deaths. Its restaurants, bars, schools, shops and offices are open.
This State, whose vice president is an epidemiologist, took decisive measures at the beginning of the crisis to prevent its population from having to submit to other tougher restrictions later.
“Countries like Taiwan have been exemplary,” Microsoft founder Bill Gates, who donated billions of dollars to help find a vaccine, told Fox News this week. “Thus, they will have neither the health burden nor the economic repercussions that other countries will suffer.”
If Taiwan acted in this way, it is because it was hit in 2003 by another coronavirus, that of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which, after China and Hong Kong, left the island with the worst balance: 84 deaths.
On January 20, even before Beijing imposed confinement in Wuhan, the source of the epidemic, Taiwanese authorities created an emergency center dedicated to the crisis.
They began to monitor arrivals, multiplied screening tests and examined people who had been in contact with patients.
Very soon, the island made a drastic decision to ban visitors from China. At the time, the World Health Organization (WHO) still discouraged these measures.
In a recent article, the Journal of the American Medical Association (Jama) listed the first 124 measures that were applied in this country when the rest of the world still did not see the epidemic risk.
– “No evidence, prudence” –
Jason Wang, a professor at Stanford University and co-author of this study, is convinced that in this way Taiwan gained time to accelerate the production of masks and tests.
“Two weeks is a long time when the virus is spreading exponentially,” he explains to AFP. “Before there is no definitive evidence, it is best to be as cautious as possible against an unknown virus,” he continues. “We have all learned a hard lesson.”
South Korea, another exemplary country, has managed to “flatten” the curve of new cases.
In this country, the spread of COVID-19 broke out in late February in the city of Daegu, within an organization considered by some to be a sect. At the height of the crisis, 909 new infections were registered in a single day. Currently, there are more than 10,000 cases of infections and 192 died.
But the number of additional 24-hour cases in Daegu has just dropped below 10. And across the country, life is running its course more or less normally. The slogans of social distance are fully applied, without the need to be imposed by the government.
Experts have highlighted the South Korean strategy of mass detection (more than 485,000 tests), as well as the monitoring of patient contacts and the quarantine imposed on all patients.
Within weeks of launching a public tender, South Korea snapped up an effective screening test, which is currently being heavily exported.
Hong Kong and Singapore also managed to contain the spread of the new coronavirus at first, but are now facing a second wave of cases imported from Europe and the United States.
These two megalopolises quickly applied controls to the population arriving from China and exhaustively followed up on people who were in contact with patients.
Both cities avoided the widespread confinement that has been imposed in many countries.
But the increase in cases in recent weeks forced Hong Kong (935 cases and four deaths) and Singapore (1,375 cases and six deaths) to apply more drastic measures.
Singapore has just announced the closure of its schools and workplaces, putting nearly 20,000 migrant workers in quarantine.
In Hong Kong, schools have been closed since the beginning of January and most officials work from home, but the inhabitants are not obliged to stay at home. The government has just ordered the closing of bars and karaokes and has banned public gatherings of more than four people.
Bernard Chan, one of the chief advisers to chief executive Carrie Lam, recently warned that the measures could be even tougher. “We could ask that all non-essential companies be closed, so that most people stay home,” he told RTHK news.