Almost every nation in the world has been hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and one aspect of it that has caught observers’ attention is the drastic difference in how countries responded initially and the performance received so far.

COVID-19 was announced as a global pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) on March 11, 2020. Lockdowns, quarantines, curfews, and many other measures to control the spread of the virus have been put in place in response to the pandemic.

In fact, by 26 March 2020, 1.7 billion people all over the world were under some form of lockdown, and by the first week of April, that number had increased to 3.9 billion people (more than half of the world’s population).

As of April 19, 2021, COVID-19 has been reported in more than 192 countries, with 141 million cases and 3 million deaths. More than 80 million people have so far recovered from the virus.

Summary of the duration of nationwide lockdowns over 12 months (January 16, 2020 – January 15, 2021).

The characteristics of the coronavirus and varied government response all over the world led to differences in infection and mortality rates across demographic groups, geographic locations, and countries. This article will take an in-depth look at how different nations responded to Coronavirus and the results obtained so far.

Coronavirus Spread and Government Responses Across The World

COVID-19: Stringency Index, Apr 18, 2021 (Click here to view the latest data).

Composite measure based on nine response indicators including school closures, workplace closures, and travel bans rescaled to a value from 0 to 100 (100 = strictest). 

China

The first case of the coronavirus disease was reported on December 31 2019 in Wuhan, the capital city of Hubei province, China, and spread all over the world within months. In early January 2020, the Chinese government announced that a Wuhan pneumonia outbreak was due to a novel coronavirus. 

The government immediately imposed strict containment measures, extended the national Lunar New Year holiday, locked down Hubei province, and began enforcing mobility restrictions and social distancing rules at the national level, and mandated returning migrant workers to enter a 14-day quarantine period. As a result of these containment measures, the Chinese economy contracted by 6.8% in the first quarter of 2020.

Foreign leaders and analysts praised China’s effective response to the virus, in comparison to the 2003 SARS outbreak. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres stated in February that it was clear “there is a massive effort that is made by China in order to contain the disease and avoid its propagation” adding that the effort was “remarkable”. 

U.S. former President Trump thanked Chinese leader Xi Jinping on Twitter on 24 January, stating that “China has been working very hard to contain the Coronavirus.

The United States greatly appreciates their efforts and transparency.” In a letter to Xi, Singaporean president Halimah Yacob applauded China’s “swift, decisive and comprehensive measures” in safeguarding the health of the Chinese people, while prime minister Lee Hsien Loong remarked of “China’s firm and decisive response” in communities affected by the virus. 

Similar sentiments were expressed by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates defended the nation’s COVID-19 response amidst criticism from the Trump administration, saying “China did a lot of things right at the beginning” and that “they got to zero” with “an effective lockdown”.

Papers from academic journals and publishers have regarded China’s measures to contain the coronavirus in its own country to be effective.

United Kingdom

The United Kingdom reported its first confirmed case on January 31, 2020, with cases peaking in April and May, then declining in the weeks that followed. A second and third wave took hold as cases rose significantly higher than the initial peak. 

The government implemented a range of measures on March 23, 2020, which included travel restrictions, social distancing measures, putting a stop to non-essential gatherings, and ramping up testing. 

In Q2 2020, the economy contracted further from its previous state, which led to GDP falling by 19.5 percent, and overall, the UK’s economy contracted by 9.8% in 2020.

The third and stricter lockdown was reinforced on January 4, 2021, amid a rising coronavirus lockdown across England, with Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales also going into lockdown. The full emergency lockdown is being lifted in phases with all sectors of the economy expected to reopen by June 21, 2021.

Brazil

Brazil reported its first case on February 26, 2020, and since then, over 13 million people have been infected with a case fatality rate of 2.5 percent. The pandemic first peaked in mid-August but began to recede through early November. However, an acute second wave has caused new highs in daily cases and deaths. 

In nearly all states, ICU vacancies fell below 20 percent, prompting renewed lockdown measures. Brazil has no air entry barriers in place but a negative PCR test is required before travelers are allowed entry. Land travel between Brazil and neighboring countries is still in place.

Germany

In Germany, the first confirmed case of COVID-19 was reported on January 27, 2020. Since then, the government has placed a range of measures to contain the spread of the Coronavirus such as closing its borders, schools, and non-essential businesses. 

Social distancing requirements, mask-wearing mandates, and a ban on public gathering led to a steady decline in cases in early April, but both infection and death rates began to rise again in July as the summer vacation season kicked in, prompting the government to implement mandatory COVID-19 test requirement, 14-day quarantine for people entering from “high risk” countries upon arrival.

State and federal governments agreed on a hot-spot strategy that required regional governments to enforce local restrictions whenever or wherever 50 new cases per 100,000 inhabitants were exceeded in 7 days.

In November, a rising second wave of infections led to a nationwide “lockdown light” with schools open, but restaurants, leisure, and personal services closed. 

Lockdown was tightened further in December as infection and death rates continued to rise, but in March, a gradual re-opening according to a five-step program was proposed. However, the government extended the full lockdown measures until April 18 in light of the third wave of COVID infections. Incoming travelers are still required to provide a negative COVID test.

South Africa

The first confirmed South Africa COVID-19 case was reported on March 5, 2020. The government immediately declared a state of disaster and adopted containment measures, which include social distancing, travel bans on visitors from high-risk areas, and quarantine for nationals returning home, screening at ports of entry, school closures, screening visits to homes, as well as contact tracking and tracing of infected people using mobile technology. 

A nationwide lockdown was put in place with only critical workers, and essential services open while the initial phased lifting of lockdown happened throughout May and June. An increase in cases led to a reimposition of curfew, alcohol ban, and face mask mandate. 

Cases declined again until the second wave began in December, with President Ramaphosa enforcing further restrictions in locations with high infections and extending the curfew for these regions to the entire nation. Restrictions were tightened on December 28 to combat the increasing infections due to the faster-spreading new variant.

USA

The United States of America has suffered the most Coronavirus infections and deaths of any country in the world, and this could be attributed to the country’s slow response with confusing retorts from the white house and a patchwork of responses by state and local governments, which often fell along partisan lines.

The first confirmed case of COVID-19 in the country was reported on January 20, 2020, and by January 31, Former President Donald Trump declared the U.S. outbreak a public health emergency. The federal government responded to the pandemic by announcing a raft of declarations of emergency, some of which included travel and entry restrictions initially on China, and later to other red zone territories. 

The White House Coronavirus Task Force was formed on January 29 with Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar as chair and later replaced by Vice President Mike Pence. As the Pandemic progressed through the U.S and across the world, the U.S. government began to issue recommendations for state and local government response while taking social distancing measures and workplace hazard controls.

In March and April 2020, several stimulus packages were passed by the U.S. Congress as part of an aggressive effort to fight the pandemic and the economic impact caused. The administration signed a $2.2 trillion economic stimulus bill known as the CARES Act on March 27 and On December 28, 2020.

Trump signed into law the $2.3 trillion Consolidated Appropriations Act to prevent a government shutdown. Other proposed acts of legislation to provide economic relief have been made within both the House of Representatives and the Senate, with White House influence. Also, other federal policy changes have been made by a number of departments—some at the direction of Trump, as well as his successor President Joe Biden.

Communication from the Trump administration with regards to the pandemic generated negative responses. Trump was initially optimistic about the country’s response to the pandemic and the threat level of the coronavirus disease towards the public. As the pandemic escalated in severity, he repeatedly made inaccurate or deceptive statements. In contrast, numerous statements by Trump’s administration officials supported physical distancing measures and business closures. There are also some non-government responses one of which is the California-based online platform, National Coronavirus Hotline(NCH).

How the response of these countries stands against that of countries like New Zealand with a low number of infections and deaths

New Zealand’s response to the coronavirus pandemic has been regarded as one of the best in the world and the reason for this is obvious -how they reacted to the first reported cases across the country. 

On February 2, when the first death outside of China was being reported, New Zealand began banning entry of foreigners coming from or through China beginning on the following day, February 3. Citizens returning from China had to isolate for 14 days.

New Zealand has been so measured in their approach that a tiny outbreak in September 2020 was traced to a 50-second time window when authorities responded to an incident of an infected person breathing infectious particles into a hotel corridor leading to two people in a room next door picking up the particles and contracting COVID-19.

New Zealand follows an approach of tracking the source of an outbreak and doing everything they can to stamp out any sign of infection and that is why this country with a population of 5 million has recorded only 26 COVID-19 deaths.

Even an instance of community transmission is enough to send communities into lockdown, travel bans, and household bubbles. The authorities have also been rigorous in tracking down every person in the Auckland cluster, which demonstrated their zero-Covid approach. Now that community transmission is not ongoing, the country has directed all of its attention towards intercepting cases at its borders.

Vaccines

The SARS-CoV-2 genetic sequence data was first shared through the Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data (GISAID)on January 10, 2020, but it wasn’t until March 19 that the global pharmaceutical industry announced that they would be committing to creating vaccines to address COVID-19.

In Phase III trials, several COVID-19 vaccines have demonstrated up to 95% efficacy in preventing symptomatic COVID-19 infections. As of April 2021, at least one national regulatory authority has approved 13 vaccines for public use. These include RNA vaccines such as the Pfizer–BioNTech vaccine and the Moderna vaccine, five conventional vaccines, which include BBIBP-CorV, Covaxin, CoronaVac, WIBP-CorV, and CoviVac, four viral vector vaccines – Sputnik V, the Oxford–AstraZeneca vaccine, Convidecia, and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, and two protein subunit vaccines (EpiVacCorona and RBD-Dimer).

Phased distribution plans have been implemented by many countries to prioritize those who are at most risk of complications, such as the elderly, and healthcare workers, who are highly exposed to the Coronavirus. Based on information from national health agencies, as of April 17, 2021, more than 900 million doses of COVID-19 have been administered worldwide.

In the United States, following the approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine by the FDA on December 10, 2020, mass vaccinations commenced on December 14, 2020. A few days after, the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine was later approved, and the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine was approved on February 27, 2021.

The Donald Trump presidency initiated the vaccine campaign before it transitioned to the succeeding administration of President Joe Biden. Biden began his term with an immediate goal of administering one hundred million shots in his first hundred days in office and signing an executive order which included an increase in vaccination supplies. 

After the goal was met on March 19, 2021, he followed up with a new goal on March 25, 2021, of two hundred million shots.

Vaccine rollout in Different Countries

Location                                         Doses Per 100 people    Total Doses
US62.6209,406,814
China13.4193,299,977
UK64.042,780,069
Brazil15.432,810,523
Germany26.221,945,707
South Africa0.5292,623

Operation Warp Speed

Operation Warp Speed was a public-private partnership that the United States government initiated to facilitate and accelerate the development, manufacture, and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics. Operation Warp Speed was first reported on April 29, 2020, but was officially announced on May 15, 2020. The responsibilities of Operation Warp Speed were handed to the White House COVID-19 Response Team.

Operation Warp Speed was initially funded by about $10 billion from the CARES Act, with additional funding from the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA). Funding was increased to about $18 billion by October 2020.

World Bank and IMF Provide Funding

The World Bank Group announced in October 2020 that it would be making available up to $160 billion to address the health, economic, and social difficulties countries all over the world are facing, including $50 billion of IDA resources on grants and highly concessional terms. 

On April 2, 2020, the World Bank Group rolled out the dedicated COVID-19 Fast-Track Facility project to assist 25 countries, amounting to $1.9 billion. The organization announced on May 19 2020 that its emergency operations to fight Coronavirus have reached 100 developing countries and a further $12 billion was approved on October 13, 2020, for developing countries to finance the purchase and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, tests, and treatments for their citizens.  

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has also provided financial assistance to 83 countries worth 102 million and also relaxed the debt terms. The IMF’s executive board through its different lending facilities and debt relief service financed by the Catastrophe Containment and Relief Trust (CCRT) provided assistance to several countries impacted by the pandemic. In general, the IMF has currently made about $250 billion, a quarter of its $1 trillion lending capacity available to member countries.

References

 1. https://www.imf.org/en/Topics/imf-and-covid19/Policy-Responses-to-COVID-19 

2.. COVID-19 vaccine development pipeline “. Vaccine Centre, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. 1 March 2021. Retrieved 10 March 2021.

3. “Trump Administration Announces Framework and Leadership for ‘Operation Warp Speed'”