A few countries have become the poster children of effective coronavirus management. We’ve praised them as they set a standard and an example for the world to follow — but they’re not the only ones who did a good job. Some success stories have flown under the radar.
Vietnam: an ‘overreaction’ made a great success story
Vietnam has a long border with China and a population of almost 100 million people — and yet it has only recorded 300 coronavirus cases and not a single fatality.
Vietnam, a country whose GDP per capita is 24 times lower than the US, quickly understood that its medical system would be overwhelmed by even a mild outbreak, so it took early and decisive action — extreme, but sensible was the mantra in Vietnam, and it worked, at least so far.
“The government was very quick to establish strict protocols of contact tracing and isolation. It was treated with all seriousness, and everyone seemed to understand that it was a threat. The Vietnamese government began to encourage more mask-wearing, providing lots of public information, detailed information about cases, and announcing that quarantining and testing would be provided at no charge,” an anonymous source told ZME Science.
Vietnam’s success is even more remarkable as it never really had a total national lockdown, choosing instead to focus on emerging clusters.
Central Europe — quiet and effective
Countries such as Slovakia, Poland, and the Czech Republic have seen far fewer cases and deaths than Western European countries. They had a bit more warning time compared to places like Italy, but so did the UK and the US, which reported a full-blown outbreak.
Here too, countries feared that underfunded and struggling healthcare systems would quickly be overwhelmed, and this favored early action. These countries were also way quicker to adopt science-based recommendations. For instance, outdoor mask wearing is now common to much of Europe, but it was the Czech Republic and Slovakia that were quickest to implement this policy. Swift action and mandatory masks made a huge difference.
In a sense, these countries managed to turn their disadvantage into an advantage: the fear of a vulnerable society and healthcare led to more effective prevention measures and the number of infections is drastically lower than their western neighbors.
It’s not just countries in central Europe, also. Countries like Greece, Croatia, and Bulgaria in the Balkans have also been successful at keeping the outbreak in check so far.
Africa’s success stories: Senegal leads the way
When it became clear that COVID-19 was becoming a global pandemic, Africa was one of the potential hotspots, particularly the impoverished area with a struggling healthcare. But as a whole, Africa seems to have dodged the worst of this first wave of infections.
This is not to say that Africa is out of the woods yet — far from it — but there have been quite a few success stories that warrant attention.
Senegal, for instance, boasts one of the highest recovery rates in the world and the Dakar-based Institut Pasteur (IPD) has developed a rapid $1 COVID-19 test, repurposing Ebola facilities into COVID-19 testing centers. The country also embraced novel but cheap technology, spearheading the local production of 3D-printed ventilators. The experience in dealing with infectious diseases turned out to be a valuable asset for Senegal.
Ghana is now lifting its lockdown, with officials praising the country’s test-and-trace program is proving highly effective, and South Africa, haunted by its slow response to the AIDS epidemic, quickly flattened the curve through a rapid lockdown.
South America’s polar opposites
It’s hard to imagine more different approaches than the ones Argentina and Brazil had. While Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro showed a complete disregard of the disease and cases continue to surge, Argentina’s early lockdown saved many lives.
Although it is essentially at the brink of bankrupcy, Argentina managed to coordinate its healthcare efforts and imposed an early quarantine. Argentina‘s health system is also dealing with a Dengue feveroutbreak, with more than 14,000 cases since 29 July 2019, which further imposed a substantial burden on the country — and yet, the country managed to stay ahead of the virus instead of playing a constant game of catch up, like its neighbor.
Argentina was also reported to be among the countries in the region whose population adhered to the lockdown the most and social solidarity has soared in Argentina
Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay also reported similar results, showing that South American can react with remarkable speed to such a crisis. However, there is a stark divide between these countries and their neighbors led by populist leaders.
This divide is in large part representative of why some countries reacted better while others floundered — not just in South America, but in general.
Throughout this outbreak, populist leaders reacted in various ways based on the political base that they are trying to win and the image that they are trying to push forward — from the strongman figure that Bolsonaro, Putin, and Trump have cultivated, to the aloof intellectual that Boris Johnson loves to play and the Hungarian would-be dictator Viktor Orban. But they all have one thing in common: a disregard for their people.